It’s funny that the opening scene of the film which ostensibly invented Cinema Verite appears to be staged.
By some definitions, that isn’t a problem, as Cinema Verite might just mean unscripted with no plot, depending upon who is talking about it. But still, it’s interesting that a film like this has these planned scenes. It just goes to show, nothing is ever born in work moment or one work of art.
The film is mostly interviews with a group of people – including members of the crew – though, initially, it displays attempts to find people to interview. (I don’t know how staged that is.) This particular summer was significant for France, and there is some talk about what was going on in the war with Algeria, for example.
But much of the talk is more about ennui. It might seem like a cliche, but it might just be that this film helped popularize the idea that the French are perpetually unhappy. There are multiple people in this film who appear to be struggling with some kind of mental health issue – one in particular – and some of what transpires can be hard to watch. (At least with the benefit of 2020 vision – sorry – knowing what we know now about depression and the like.)
The film is shockingly meta, and too much for my tastes, for a film that is a documentary anyway. The filmmakers appear to have had genuine trepidation that anyone would care about what they were doing and so they discuss the nature of the film they are making at least three times. That might have seemed interesting at the time but this part has held up the least well, because Cinema Verite is very much a thing now but also because filmmakers talking about their decisions in the film they are making is bit annoying, at least for me.
So this is absolutely a landmark film, to the best of my knowledge. But time and its own influence has really dulled its impact 60 years on. I know it helped start a movement and I know that documentary – especially footage of people just talking – wasn’t that popular in 1961, but I still struggled to be engaged as much as I would have liked. (Michel Brault, one of the cinematographers, went on to make numerous documentaries, some of which I have seen and found more engaging.)
But a landmark nonetheless.