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Les États généraux du film documentaire 2019 “How do you live?” Edgar Morin’s cinema in actions

“How do you live?” Edgar Morin’s cinema in actions

États généraux: Edgar Morin is known for his past engagements in the resistance against the Nazis and as an active opponent to the colonial wars, and for his more contemporary political positions in favour of political ecology alongside Stéphane Hessel and South-American militants; Edgar Morin is also known as the theorist of the concept of “complex thought”, and as the author of philosophic and sociological texts, a prolific corpus with multiple points of attack which includes the six volumes of La Méthode, La Voie, Le Paradigme perdu. La Nature humaine and L’Homme et la Mort; but Edgar Morin is less known as a thinker on cinema, except perhaps for the essay Le Cinéma ou l’Homme imaginaire, published in 1956, and the film which is generally thought to be more the work of Jean Rouch than his, the sole film that Edgar Morin signed as co-director: Chronicle of a Summer. So how will we approach his thinking on cinema, here at Lussas?
Monique Peyrière: There’s first the desire to jump over 1968 to the texts that were written before, a curiosity for texts which vivaciously question the role played by cinema in post-war societies, when the art was considering itself in relation to and in rupture with the scars left by the propaganda of totalitarian regimes. The publication in 2018 of the book Le Cinéma, un art de la complexité [1], a collection of articles on film which Edgar Morin wrote for reviews in the fifties gives us the opportunity to question the value of this approach. Indeed, as a complement to his better-known works – the 1956 text and those that followed, Les Stars and L’Esprit du temps – the political militant Edgar Morin, in these articles, takes the time to elaborate a social anthropology of film while being totally connected as much with the academic preoccupations expressed within the Institute of Filmology, as with film professionals, in particular members of the French New Wave. Even though he was, like Jean Rouch, a researcher at the CNRS, he was also nonetheless a film critic who contributed a regular column to the review La Nef. I am interested in this porosity within an engagement in favour of a double emancipation, political and cinematic.
États généraux: What connection can be made between this post-war period and the one we are going through today, perturbed by new violence?
Monique Peyrière: The idea is to seek in the interstices of these texts, of these images and sounds from before, close to the uproar, chaos and fear provoked by war, what was then documented, then forgotten and which speaks to us anew in our fractured times. Hence the desire to reconsider this film which marks a date in the history of cinema but which remains nonetheless constantly re-appropriated up to today: Chronicle of a Summer. With Érik Bullot, an artist, theorist and filmmaker who has written among other books Le Film et son double: Boniment, ventriloquie, performativité [2], it seemed pertinent to redistribute our “knowledge” on this film starting from its doubles.
Érik Bullot: Indeed it is curious to observe how the mythical film by Edgar Morin and Jean Rouch Chronicle of a Summer has given rise to a series of doubles. We can cite without being exhaustive the book Chronicle of a Summer, published in 1962 and which contained a transcription of the film’s scenes and dialogues, and also some not included in the film; the twenty-five-episode radio series produced on France Culture in 1991; the 2011 film by Florence Dauman Un été +50; the 2012 film by Hernán Rivera Mejía À propos d’un été; the recent book by Frédérique Berthet La Voix manquante, on Marceline Loridan’s experience, and the experiment carried out by François Bucher consisting of reworking the film’s material and ordering it chronologically according to the text written by Morin, “Chronique d’un film”, in which he relates the shooting and his dissatisfaction with what the film became. The film continues to swarm and disseminate, producing other films, other books, new words. Chronicle of a Summer is not only a film marking the history of cinema, it is a series of doubles that disturb the very definition of a film by blurring the boundaries between the shoot, the experience and the performative.
États généraux: This film is often presented as being emblematic of cinéma vérité
Monique Peyrière: This concept is not my favourite unless we attempt to rework it. Let us begin the inquiry using the question “How do you live?”, which initiates the shoot of Chronicle of a Summer and establishes certain issues: the creating of tension between daily life and filmed life, between the individual and the collective, between the political and cinema. Paraphrasing Edgar Morin, we can say that this film concerns the raw heart of the subject and rubs the subject raw. These same tensions play out all along the film shot in 1974 by a collective of Moroccan artists and directed by Mostafa Derkaoui, About Some Meaningless Events, which will be projected during the evening, in reference to Chronicle of a Summer. This will give us the opportunity with Léa Morin, who directed the restoration of this film which had disappeared for a long period and been made invisible by political censorship, to seek out the reflexive movements which inscribe these films within our contemporary concerns.
Érik Bullot: I note that numerous artists and filmmakers today perturb the powers of film through the discovery of rushes, uncompleted films, unmade projects, like a kind of repository for a meta-history of cinema. It’s then a question of developing the powers of film or, according to Hollis Frampton, creating the films missing from the history of cinema. From this point of view, Chronicle of a Summer and the series of films which echo it more or less closely respond to the promise of a potential, self-reflexive, dialectical cinema which was one of the issues, often pushed aside, of cinéma vérité.

1. Edgar Morin, Le Cinéma, un art de la complexité. Articles et inédits, 1952-1962, ed. Monique Peyrière and Chiara Simonigh, Paris, Nouveau Monde éditions, 2018.
2. Érik Bullot, Le Film et son double. Boniment, ventriloquie, performativité, Geneva, Mamco, 2017.

With Monique Peyrière and Érik Bullot, and the participation of Léa Morin.