'The Last Uprising' | The Nation


'The Last Uprising'

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Truffaut could never bear the pious "good conscience of the left," though, and he shunned the official, Communist trade union-sponsored marches in May. He did take part in the last major student demo of the period in Paris's Latin Quarter, and his comments reveal how its festive and unofficial nature dovetailed with his traditional dislike of orthodoxy:

At the time of writing, Carl Bromley had just returned from a pilgrimage to Truffaut's grave in Paris.

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Carl Bromley
Carl Bromley is the editorial director of Nation Books.

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What moved me about the students was that they were returning the blows they'd received from the police. I followed their entire movement; I even marched, though I had never marched before. I feel an enormous admiration for young people who are capable of chanting "We're all German Jews!" I never thought we'd ever see intelligence, humor, strength, justice in the street at the same time. That is what stirred me.

But when May '68 passed Truffaut returned to his vocation: Cinema was still cinema for him and not an ideological state apparatus, as many on the left saw it. In many ways Truffaut's work in the immediate, post-'68 period was his best--The Wild Child, Day for Night and the magnificent Two English Girls. His work insulated him from the disillusioning experience of defeat many of his more radical colleagues, who wanted to rid cinema of its "reactionary structures," had to endure. They had to grapple with the question Robin Wood posed: how to "nurture a radical voice within a culture that doesn't want to listen to it." Cahiers was temporarily transferred into a rather dreary Marxist film journal that asked all the right questions about class and ideology but shed the love of cinema that had once made it so essential. For Godard, the struggle continued, even though there are few takers these days for the films he made with the Dziga-Vertov group. "He feels that since May '68 it's impossible to make the same kinds of movies and he resents people who still do," Truffaut observed. The Brechtian street theater of Tout va bien (starring Yves Montand and Jane Fonda!) attempted to link the unofficial, shop-floor strikes of that period (1972) with May '68: While rank-and-file workers undoubtedly still faced intransigent bosses and dozy PCF trade-union officials; while intellectuals were enjoined to start from zero and rethink what it meant to be a leftist intellectual, it probably isn't a stretch to suggest that Jean Eustache's The Mother and the Whore was far more representative of the milieu of the post-'68 generation, its postrevolutionary sadness consumed as it was with cynicism, lechery and suicide.

In Godard's recent self-portrait JLG/JLG, scenes from La Chinoise flicker on a distant television set while Godard mourns that he and his leftist colleagues hadn't realized that the injunction to make "two, three, many Vietnams" would result in the creation of "two, three, many Americas." His recent films strike a similarly plaintive tone: Godard enjoys a Prospero-like existence in his Swiss hideaway while he observes that the profane world of material objects is challenged by the natural and spiritual world. These films are beautiful, difficult and immeasurably sad.

While time simply passes in these films, in Douchet's gorgeous book the past and present converge. Its content, really a scrapbook of reflections on the New Wave, is animated by the book's thick coffee-table format, with bold, splashy stills that recall the color and rich, tragic sensuality of films like Godard's Contempt and Varda's Le Bonheur, Belmondo's rough, exuberant physicality in Breathless; Anna Karina's furtive wink in A Woman Is a Woman and her unforgettable and much imitated dance in Band of Outsiders. But Douchet's book isn't just eye candy. As he retrieves what has been lost, he suggests that "it is the same today as it was for the directors of the New Wave": Where the American cinema of the postwar years "liberated the tastes, vision and the imagination of the young rebels" and pointed to the sclerosis of French quality cinema, "today, it is American film that is diseased, and filmmakers from all countries, Americans included, must struggle against it." For nearly a generation our leaders have told us there is no alternative, as America's free-market ideology becomes a world ideology. The same could be said of world cinema.

In lieu of radical challenge to this, in an environment where immediate commercial success is the sole criterion of judgment and where, as Douchet puts it, in the name of competition "one must submit to the rules established by an enormous [commercial] machine designed to pulverize," any attempt to impose contrary cinematic visions--whether auteurist, collective agent provocateurist, or even within the system--is more than just a necessary evil, it is an imperative.

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