Film of the Week: Cannes 1968

This week’s film of the week isn’t technically a movie; it’s a newsreel titled Cannes 1968, and it comes packaged with the Criterion release of Francois Truffaut’s Stolen Kisses (1968). The reason why I picked this rather short newsreel—it’s only seven minutes long—is because I think that in wanting to understand the later films of Jean-Luc Godard and to a lesser extent, Francois Truffaut, it is vital to know about the political event that was May 1968. This is because film as a medium doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it is susceptible to outside influences be they economic, political, or personal and May 1968 was certainly an influence on the films of both Godard and Truffaut. The result of this influence is that the consequences of May 1968 exist in some way, shape or form in their films.

To shortly explain what May 1968 was, students and factory workers nationwide went on strike, because they sought a reformation of France’s ideals and policies. That in itself is a shallow glossing, but for the purpose of recommending this film, I think it suffices to simply understand that France’s infrastructure was nearly shutdown by the amount of civil unrest going on.

What the newsreel portrays is Truffaut essentially taking the lead in shutting down the Cannes film festival of 1968. As Truffaut argues in the film, for it to be announced that the film festival is happening while the citizens of France are protesting would be an act of ridiculous disassociation; what that means is that like the students and factory workers, the filmmakers must too protest in their own way in order to show their solidarity.

Once again, what the newsreel reveals about Truffaut and also Godard who was there backing him, is that the two believed film existed in close association with the world of the filmmakers. What does that entail exactly? Well it’s different from film to film. Godard’s Tout Va Bien (1972) would go on to choose a more direct confrontation with May 1968 by portraying factory workers on strike, and a filmmaker who left behind his leftist ideals in order to make commercial cinema while on the other hand, Truffaut’s Stolen Kisses relegates May 1968 to the background, merely hinting at it.

For example, in Stolen Kisses there is a scene where the protagonist Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud) asks his girlfriend Christine (Claude Jade) for a date, but he is rebuked. As we learn, she is too tired to go out, because she was at a demonstration. Truffaut’s inclusion of May 1968 into Stolen Kisses does more than ground the film’s world in our own reality. I see it as serving two purposes. The first is that the film begins to function like a historical record.

By watching the films influenced by May 1968, we are given a glimpse into the real-world events of the time. The second purpose is that May 1968 doesn’t simply exist in the background, although it does seem that way. Its influence extends into the narrative events of the film itself, so Doinel doesn’t go on that date with Claude, because of May 1968. In this case, the filmmaking style of Truffaut can be seen as a response to May 1968, and so the real world begins to directly influence and dictate the world of film, resulting in the docu-fiction cinema that the French New Wave helped to pioneer.

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