Paris is called the City of Lights and is usually shown in the images of the city’s museums, buildings and culture. In May, 1962, the first month of peace in France in 23 years following the ceasefire that ended the battle for Algiers, Chris Marker and Pierre Lhomme took their cameras to the Parisian streets to get the viewpoint of the French people in “Le Joli Mai.”
This unusual look at life in Paris in May 1962 shows France, a country that now has one of the highest standards of living in the world, as its people struggle with their nation at peace. There is no war to stimulate the French economy and its immigrant community, from the former French colonies in Africa and Indo-China, is vying for the same jobs as native Frenchmen. Marker and Lhomme interview both sides as France enters its new and very different phase.
Instead of authoritative figures of the day spouting their professional rhetoric on the state of France, the filmmakers train their cameras on ordinary people, both native and immigrant. The viewpoints garnered are from the lower and middle class Parisians as they go about their business of making a living in their new world. A frustrated shopkeeper talks about his woes – long hours, a nagging wife and little pay. A young boy attending the exhibition of John Glenn’s historic Friendship 7 space capsule talks about his hero. The camera roves through the Parisian markets and shows the changing life of Paris.
The film is in two parts. Part one is narrated by Simone Signoret as she introduces us to “the most beautiful city in the world.” The filmmakers’ camera takes to the air to show the panoramic beauty of Paris before it comes back to earth. The film then gets into the meat and potatoes look of life through the eyes of the common Frenchman. Part 2, narrated by Yves Montand, shows Paris life with the events of the day – a terror bombing that spawned a funeral for the victims attended by 5000000 people, protests against the government and labor disputes and strikes that became the norm in France during the 1960s. This part shows the social changes and the birth of French socialism.
“Le Joli Mai (The Beautiful Month of May)” gives an historic insight into France during its evolution from colonial power to the socialist democracy it would become. This is a film that appeals to the documentary buff and to those interested in France, particularly Paris, and its history during the 1960s. I give it a B+.
Laura gives "Le Joli Mai" an A-.
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