The least-known filmmaker to carry such massive importance, France’s Chris Marker is pretty much the guy to thank for all those footage-laced cine-diaries made by sad teenagers. This really isn’t such a bad thing. Moviemaking becomes a deft tool of self-analysis in Marker’s hands—a kind of societal therapy.
Though he’s most discussed for his magnificent 28-minute romance, “La Jete” (later remade by Terry Gilliam as Twelve Monkeys), the crux of Marker’s work has always been documentary, toggling between keen media observations and politics. Our highest rating goes to one of Marker’s most epic collages, never before on DVD: A Grin Without a Cat is three hours of “scenes from the Third World War,” in Marker’s words. Originally released in France in 1977, then reshaped by the director 15 years later after the fall of the Soviet Union, Grin is a dense history of decades of leftist struggle, tinged with hope and compromise. A U.S. Air Force bomber hoots at the damage he inflicts on “Victor Charlie,” while Castro and others argue their revolutions into dust.
This isn’t easy viewing, and not for everyone. (It’s the work of a disillusioned Marxist.) But just to take in Grin’s first few moments, a mash-up of Battleship Potemkin and police whacking May ’68 protesters, is to see a mind sifting through chaos and making beautiful, critical sense of it.—Joshua Rothkopf