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A Grin Without A Cat: Le Fond de l'air est rouge

A Film by Chris Marker

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A GRIN WITHOUT A CAT is Chris Marker's epic film-essay on the worldwide political wars of the 60's and 70's: Vietnam, Bolivia, May '68, Prague, Chile, and the fate of the New Left.

Released in France in 1978, restored and "re-actualized" by Marker fifteen years later (after the fall of the Soviet Union), we are proud to release the film now for the first time in the United States.

Described by Marker as "scenes of the Third World War," the film (the original French title is virtually untranslatable) is divided into two parts, each weaving together two strands:

Part 1: Fragile Hands
1. From Vietnam to Che's death
2. May 1968 and all that

Part 2: Severed Hands
1. From Spring in Prague to the Common Program of Government in France
2. From Chile to - to what?

From 1967 (the year Marker argues was the real turning point) on, A GRIN WITHOUT A CAT is a sweeping, global contemplation of a defining ten years' political history.

Director's Statement

Scenes of the third World War 1967-1977

Some think the third World War will be set off by a nuclear missile. For me, that's the way it will end. In the meantime, the figures of an intricate game are developing, a game whose de-coding will give historians of the future - if they are still around - a very hard time.

A weird game. Its rules change as the match evolves. To start with, the super powers' rivalry transforms itself not only into a Holy Alliance of the Rich against the Poor, but also into a selective co-elimination of Revolutionary Vanguards, wherever bombs would endanger sources of raw materials. As well as into the manipulation of these vanguards to pursue goals that are not their own.

During the last ten years, some groups of forces (often more instinctive than organized) have been trying to play the game themselves - even if they knocked over the pieces. Wherever they tried, they failed. Nevertheless, it's been their being that has the most profoundly transformed politics in our time. This film intends to show some of the steps of this transformation.

- Chris Marker

"An ingenious collage of archival footage elucidated with a trenchant, sarcastic commentary." Richard Brody, The New Yorker

"A film without a dogma, celebrating the promise of socialist ideas (the grin) while realizing that the brave new world they envision (the cat) remains elusive and intangible as its twentieth-century trial runs slip farther into the past… On a deeper level, A GRIN WITHOUT A CAT is an essay on historical memory itself." David Sterritt, Cineaste

"A unique combination of history, interpretation and testimony of a very high order." Greencine

"The ultimate achievement of an utterly unique cinematic figure, and we've been waiting for it a long time. One of the home-video releases of the year, if not the decade." Andrew O'Hehir, Salon

"No scan of Marker's redoubtable career achievement is complete without strapping oneself to this restless behemoth of a historical documentary… Along the way, Marker is a master weaver of colliding perspectives, forgotten stories and unanswered questions… the poetic questions he raises are never less than stunning." Michael Atkinson, Sight & Sound

"If, as Albert Camus wrote, 'The journalist is the historian of the moment,' it follows that documentarians such as Chris Marker serve as historians for the ages. Whether or not you lived through the heady times of the '60s' and '70s, A GRIN WITHOUT A CAT should be required viewing as a reminder of the cyclical nature of history." Cathleen Rountree, Documentary Magazine

"Indispensable viewing… Marker dispassionately sorts through party politics, revolutionary rhetoric, and deadly propaganda to come to terms with what he has characterized as 'the utopia of uniting in a common struggle those who revolt against poverty and those who revolt against wealth.'" Jaime Wolf, Good Magazine

"Excellent… an extremely welcome release of a movie almost too intense for one theater screening." Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant

"Amazing… a cinematic wonder… This is a type of documentary the likes of which is rarely seen… far more philosophically oriented than most documentaries." Doug Maclean, Home Theater Info

"***** [5 Stars] One of the most towering and extraordinary films to grace the screen! Staggering in its depth and scope…. A monumental political elegy to a not-so-distant era. An event of major importance."—Film Threat

"The subject at hand is how, in the sixties, the 'universal standard of civilization' assumed from the fifties began to collapse. The war in Vietnam - that 'nation placed at the convergence of the world's contradictions' - was the watershed, and Marker skillfully and hauntingly depicts its effect. He goes on to show the many civilian-police battles throughout Europe; the revolution within the revolution in Asia, South America, and Czechoslovakia; the space between the police and union stewards into which the French Left rushed in May '68; the assassination of princes (Che Guevara) and the deposing of kings (Richard Nixon); and those Cheshire Cats commonly known as politicians who cannot explain why what was in the air never quite materialized on the ground." Pacific Film Archives

"Marker doesn't boast that he has succeeded in making a dialectical film. But he has tried (having in his time, he says, abused the exercise of power by the commentator - director) for once to give back to the viewer, through montage, his own commentary; which is to say, his own power." Richard Roud, Sight and Sound (1977)

Click here for additional reviews of the film.

180 minutes / Color
English / English subtitles
Release: 2001
Copyright: 1977

For individual consumers (home video)

This DVD is sold for private, home use only.

This title is also available online from:

For colleges, universities, government agencies, hospitals and corporations

This DVD is sold with a license for institutional use and Public Performance rights.

Subject areas:
American Studies, Cinema Studies, Cold War Era, Eastern Europe, France, French History, History (U.S.), History (World), Human Rights, Latin American Studies, Media Studies, On 35mm, Politics, Social Movements, Sociology, South America, US & Canadian Broadcast Rights, Vietnam Era, Western Europe

Related Links:
The Films of Chris Marker
Also available for rental on 35mm, please inquire.

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