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Chronicle of a Summer

Searching Out the Sociodramatic

There are some documentaries we watch where we muse over the truth claimed because of the excitement generated. Can we really assume that this is natural excitement, or has it been manipulated into existence? The difference between When We Were Kings and Hoop Dreams captures something of this contrast. The former looks back on footage of ‘the rumble in the jungle’ between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman: a fight few thought that Ali could win, but win he did. Hoop Dreams focuses on two basketball hopefuls and the filmmakers were in little doubt when it came to what they were looking for. As Murray Sperber investigates in an article on Hoop Dreams in Jump Cut: “William Gates, one of the two main characters, candidly told an interviewer that, in the beginning, the filmmakers “came to us with an idea. Basically, it was, ‘Hey, we’ve got this story. Would you guys mind having us follow you around for a while.’””

We wouldn’t want to suggest there is anything especially wrong with this approach: the filmmakers hope to push a story through, but have to accept the contingencies involved. Hoop Dreams is a film about real basketball hopefuls, and director Steve James tries to shape it according to sports movie narrative principles. But that is very different from taking the footage after the event and turning it into a work of documentary excitement as Leon Gast succeeded in doing in When We Were Kings. James had an idea and found the boys and shot the footage. Gast, who recorded most of the footage many years earlier while shooting a concert in Zaire at the time of the fight, worked with what he had: what history and recording it gave to him.

It is a common enough question in contemporary documentary where many films want to narrativise for excitement: how to find that natural drama: Spellbound, Super Size Me, One Day in September and the brilliant The Thin Blue Line? But do they find the tension in the footage shot, or look to generate out of the situations they create an excitement that might make them closer to fiction than to fact? We might notice that Hoop Dreams is a film sharing many similarities with Richard Linklater’s fictional Boyhood. After all, both directors spent years working on their films, with Linklater filming every year as his actor passed through adolescence. Equally, in Hoop Dreams, “the filmmakers pursued their story relentlessly”, Sperber says, “and spent a number of years and miles of film on it.” “In addition, they employed a ruthlessness worthy of the agents and coaches whom they condemn.”. Early on in the film, they introduce Gene Pingatore, the coach of a wealthy suburban school, St. Joseph’s of Westchester, Illinois, who wants desperately to win a state basketball championship. They also show street agent Earl Smith searching the Chicago ghettos for young, promising b-ball talent, then arrange for Agee and Gates to go to St. Joseph’s and play for Pingatore. This idea of working with contingency but also narrative expectation too (through creating possibilities that would lend themselves to the ambitions not only of the film’s subjects but also the filmmakers), leads to a certain ethical health in a fiction film, but can seem morally hazardous in a documentary. To absorb a bit of fact into fiction is one thing, to generate a narrative out of people’s actual lives over years can seem much more troublesome. Boyhood can fictionalise as much as it likes because it is predicated on that assumption. Hoop Dreams needs to be more wary about its desire to create tension, and can sometimes appear very close to utilising devices of cinema excitation over the rigour of cinema verite. The truths it seeks are secondary to the tension the film wishes generate: to the story it wants to tell. But should documentary have a story to tell, since unlike fiction film it does not premise itself on dramatic principles, but a reality principle?

Which leads us to Chronicle of a Summer. This is a film that cares little to create narrative excitement, but arrives at the sort of self-reflexive ethical conundrums (conundrums that Sperber would see Hoop Dreams too easily eschewing) as Jean Rouch’s film asks various figures in Paris whether or not they are happy. At the end of the film those appearing in it get to comment on the film thus made. The filmmakers then wonder how successful they have been in making a cinema verite film, how much truth have they managed to reveal? If some might argue that Hoop Dreams and other films that want to create narrative excitement out of documentary footage are epistemologically compromising (that any knowledge they seek is secondary to the narratives they insist upon), could one argue that Chronicle of a Summer is troublesome because it seeks not to generate a story out of the footage it accumulates, but confessions out of the subjects it films? The problem isn’t epistemological, but ethical. Do the filmmakers have the right to expose people in such a way?

We ask this question not simply to judge the filmmakers, but much more to judge ourselves: to see that a certain type of documentary revelation implicates an audience, and simply to dismiss the filmmaking as voyeuristic would be to miss the point, or rather to fall short of it. Whether it is Chronicle of a Summer, A Portrait of Jason, Grey Gardens or Shoah, many of the finest documentaries ever made create in us an ethical unease, a queasy sense of responsibility in the images being created. In Chronicle of a Summer, what are we to make of the moment where Marilou talks about her depression, or in A Portrait of Jason as the title character drunkenly exposes himself in Shirley Clark’s film? Or the two sisters reclusive and mentally ill in the Maysles’ brothers documentary, Grey Gardens, or the barber in Shoah breaking down as he recalls memories of the camps? It is as if in each instance the filmmakers aren’t looking for the thrill of narrative development, but for the frisson of the real coming out of our awareness that a moment of truth is being offered from the core of the self.

Now of course many will insist that this notion of documentary arriving at the real is a false holy grail of the documentary form; that whatever the truth happens to be, however we might choose to define it, once you start pointing a camera at someone, a performance results. However, many great documentarists don’t deny this point. They instead work from it: to accept that even when people are aware that they are performing they can nevertheless reveal truths that wouldn’t ordinarily be in evidence.

What we want to do in discussing Chronicle of a Summer is hold on to terms like documentary, truth and revelation without falling into naivety, but also refusing scepticism: the film might acknowledge the fact that it is a made object, but that isn’t the same thing as saying it isn’t capable of revealing certain truths. If we go with the idea that there is little difference between fact and fiction once you start pointing a camera at reality, then a great deal of the problematic viewer positioning gets lost. Thus when reading William Rothman on the film, we might feel he is too keen to see in it the formal devices over the realities that seem to be exposed. Talking of the interview with Marilou, where sociologist Edgar Morin helps her explore her feelings, Rothman says: “synchronized with Morin’s words, but seemingly not in direct response to them, Marilou looks up. Her face backlit, her eyes lustrous, she seems not so much viewing something as absorbed in reverie…In a Hollywood movie such a shot – a study in rapt observation – might well be used to nominate her as a woman with whom we are to fall in love.” (Documentary Film Classics)

Rothman, though, perhaps plays up too much the fictional possibilities to escape from the awkwardness we might believe evident in such a scene. If we insist that this is Rouch and Morin manipulating the audience with fictional devices, then we escape the discomfort of witnessing a vulnerable woman revealing her thoughts and feelings. Our scepticism saves us from our discomfort, and the problem of voyeuristic complicity is replaced by knowing awareness of film technique. As Rothman says: “thus is initiated a series of alternations between these two matched setups. In the shots making up this series, the camera is on a tripod; there is no camera movement. The compositions of these static frames as well as the pattern of editing, emulate the form of the classical shot/reverse shot dialogue sequence.” Here Rothman suggests the form of fiction, and we might wish to question as a consequence the nature of the documentary. Rothman doesn’t got so far as to say that Rouch’s film is a work of fiction rather than fact, but he might be protecting himself from the ethical with the technical: by busying himself with ways in which the film can feel fictional rather than focusing on what makes it a difficult viewing experience. “It may strike us throughout this scene, and never more than at this moment, that Marilou is being theatrical, that she is playing the role – she is certainly costumed and made up for it…”

While Rothman devotes a lot of time to the film’s form to emphasise its potentially fictional dimension, Sam di Iorio in an essay called ‘Chronicle of a Summer: Truth and Consequences’, talks more about the factual aspect of the film that could in its own way undermine the notion this is a document of the times and of the ordinary Parisian. “Chronicle’s initial stages involved filmed meetings among various constellations of the directors’ friends and acquaintances.” (Criterion) (Marilou was a secretary with Cahiers du cinema who married Jacques Rivette, Marceline would go on to marry Joris Ivens, Regis Debray turns up, Morin’s two daughters appear, and even Rivette offers a “shoe polishing cameo in her [Marilou’s] tiny chambre de bonne.” Di Iorio doesn’t feel however that this undermines its documentary credentials; it allows for what Rouch and Morin would see as a sociodrama. “Morin spoke of wanting to create a “collective halo” around these figures, to present people who were recognizable but not over-particularized, in the hope that viewers might identify with them.”

We might here see similarities with Steve James’s intentions in Hoop Dreams: that Morin and Rouch working partly from a circle of friends and other members of the public who were willing to be filmed, wanted pre-conceptually to create a certain type of film. The major difference is that James wanted to generate narrative excitement; Rouch emotional revelation. But this emotional revelation isn’t the Method style of Brando, Dean and Clift that leads to what Tyler Parker has called the Psychodrama. Taking the term from clinical practise, he sees that the “Psychodrama, as an American theater motif, is a precise sign of the search for a new operative identity by no means confined to individuals, but of which the individual (in the theater and elsewhere) becomes a conspicuous medium.” The Psychodrama we can see as a fictional revelation of character exemplified in Brando’s moments in anything from On the Waterfront, as he talks to Rod Steiger in the back seat of the cab, to his opening up to Maria Schneider in Last Tango in Paris. The Psychodrama, whatever its roots in psychology, is in film a fictive means to explore feeling: “the value of the concept of the Psychodrama is to show us a theatrical motif that is a direct key to social truth.” Tyler sees this motif as particularly American, but for argument’s sake let us see it as especially fictional: that while it is an approach evident in anyone from John Cassavetes to Tennessee Williams, couldn’t it also include Bergman and Bertolucci as well?

Yet the Sociodrama is documentary’s approach to truth-seeking on its own terms, so we wouldn’t want to indicate that Marilou is playing a role, but see that she is part of Rouch’s sociodramatic search for truth. There may be moments of Sociodrama in Hoop Dreams too, but the film’s purpose is narrationally focused rather than dramatically revelatory. Chronicle of a Summer appears to be built around sore points and pressure points: moments that aren’t dramatically arced but emotionally revealing. To spend too much time concentrating on how Marilou is presented like a movie star, to see the techniques of fictional form that Rouch isn’t completely impervious to, means that we are half-ignoring the raw emotion extracted out of real lives. Marilou may have been Cahiers secretary, and here shot like Marlene Dietrich, but if we watch the film attending chiefly to the in-crowd dimension (Rouch was much admired by Cahiers) and the lighting effects, then the film wouldn’t be generating the awkwardness we believe it seeks, the shock of the real it achieves.

By horrible analogy, the well-produced ISIS videos now possess production values far higher than several years ago, but that doesn’t mean the events they show are any the less real. This isn’t to suggest we shouldn’t be sceptical in the face of any image that claims to be real, but if we are under the assumption that what we are watching concerns someone’s life, then whatever scepticism we have towards the methods, it is a weakening of affect to deny its impact. Just as in fiction films we need to suspend disbelief so that we can engage in the emotional nature of an event, so in documentary we have in some ways to reverse this, suspending our disbelief concerning the techniques used, and believe in the reality in front of the camera. By further analogy, if someone tells us that they are heartbroken because their boyfriend has left them, we might assume there is more to the story than they are telling us, but that doesn’t mean the feelings they are showing aren’t valid. We accept there is a broader truth (perhaps she wasn’t committed, was difficult, too self-absorbed), but if these other elements crowd out empathy, then our sceptical relationship with the truth trumps feeling.

When Marilou is talking to Morin we are witnessing a woman who seems in great distress. Yet of course it is understandable to wonder whether someone might be faking these emotions if we notice that the lighting effects would demand that Marilou is constantly interrupted by the cameraman so that she can be made to look more beautiful. But overall the sequence indicates here a woman allowed to have her say. The film doesn’t hide the fact she was working for Cahiers, even if at no point does it state clearly the nature of her secretarial work. In one shot before the interview we see her going over from the typewriter to the desk with others and notice that the heading on the notepaper says Cahiers du Cinema. But we can assume that the pay for the job wouldn’t be great, that she is escaping her wealthy Italian family’s influence as she claims, and that she is living in a cold attic room in Paris. How much she drinks and how many men she has been with we are left to surmise, but if her self-disgust is anything to go by she drinks a lot and sleeps around. Is she making this up, exaggerating her claims or telling the truth we cannot know, but this is evidence of the fact that if we are to assume a sceptical position at all we shouldn’t restrict ourselves to the form of the film. We should also examine the layers of a self in the content. If we insist that cinema verite is a form that calls into question our relationship with the truth (that we have to question the mode in which the truth is being sought), then we are missing out on the truth that has been found. We don’t want to claim this is all Rothman is doing, but his concern is more with the form than with the content: more with Rouch’s technique than Marilou’s self-expression. “To be honest, I don’t know, Marilou answers, looking directly at Morin, smoke curling from her cigarette as if she were Dietrich in a von Sternberg film.” This doesn’t make him oblivious to Marilou as a subject (as opposed to a character): “Having had her say, her face expresses distaste (for what she has said? for herself for saying it? for Morin? For the whole nauseating human condition?)” (Documentary Classics) But it does still beg questions. Even if we were to assume that Marilou is willing to present herself as a character rather than as a subject (playing a role rather than expressing herself) this isn’t like the Psychodramatic actor playing a character: we can see similarities between Brando or Dean and the characters they play, but the fictional format insists that we distinguish actor from character. If Marilou isn’t expressing herself but performing a role, nevertheless that role is not clothed in characterisation, but naked to the elements of being a subject in a documentary. She goes by her own name and draws on details from her life. If we must be sceptical in the face of an image that calls itself documentary, nevertheless we have to accept that there is a subject presented and not a character.

Later in the film Marceline Loridan discusses her experiences as a Jewish deportee who is sent from France to a German concentration camp. The scene shows Marceline walking through the streets of Paris while we hear her thoughts and observations concerning her deportation in voice over. As Bill Nichols says: “She offers a quite moving monologue on her experiences, but only because Rouch and Morin had planned the scene with her and given her the tape recorder to carry. If they had waited for the event to occur on its own so they could observe it, it would never have occurred.” (Introduction to Documentary) Nichols isn’t suggesting it is any the less real for that: more that it has a dimension of the deliberate. Just as we have noted that a narratively driven film like Hoop Dreams creates out of contingent elements suspense cinema, so Chronicle of a Summer, working out of the real, searches for the sort of drama that isn’t too far removed from sequences we might find in Method driven fiction films.

Yet we are determined to hold on to a notion of documentary as an exploration of the real over the exploration of the dramatic. One reason why we distinguish from the Psychodramatic and the Sociodramatic is to hold on to the distinction between the fictional and the real, no matter if there is some overlap. When Tyler uses the term Psychodramatic he is talking about ideas “conceived and developed by Jacob L. Moreno, MD, Psychodrama employs guided dramatic action to examine problems or issues raised by an individual. Using experiential methods, sociometry, role theory, and group dynamics, Psychodrama facilitates insight, personal growth, and integration on cognitive, affective, and behavioural levels. It clarifies issues, increases physical and emotional well being, enhances learning and develops new skills.” (British Psychodrama Association) Tyler then wonders how they play out in the fictional realm. When Rouch discusses Sociodrama he is using some of the same ideas, but for a documentative purpose. As Sam de Iorio says: “While the six months they spent living and working with their subjects involved their share of ethnographic data gathering, Rouch and Morin also envisioned their project as “sociodrama,” a form of group role-play…that links participants with larger social categories.” (Criterion)

The purpose in both fiction and non-fiction is the ‘same’, in that just as Hoop Dreams draws on the Hollywood sports movie, so documentaries can draw on the type of fiction that seeks to explore the truth rather than generate excitement. Sperber opens his Jump Cut article with a host of titles making clear where Hoop Dreams‘ dramatic influences lie: “Hollywood has portrayed athletes as conquering heroes or bums (often lovable and/or redeemable), triumphing over impossible odds (Rocky) or throwing fights (Body and Soul), fulfilling various American dreams (Field of Dreams) or violating them (Eight Men Out), and almost always enveloped in a very conservative ideology.” Just as James wanted to find ways in which to generate narrative suspense, so Rouch find ways to create truthful encounters. As Morin would say: “The starting principle,” he wrote, “will be commensality—that is, that in the course of excellent meals washed down with good wines, we will entertain a certain number of people from different backgrounds, solicited for the film.” (Criterion) Just as James wanted to create the room for excitement; Morin and Rouch create the space for intimacy. In both instances the contingent is called into question. But at the same time just because a filmmaker seeks the exciting that is no guarantee they will achieve it: all that one can do is create the terms by which it is possible. We expect for example excitement from a game of football or basketball; we don’t expect truth. But that doesn’t mean that the game will provide the excitement we wish for because the contingent is still evident. Equally, Chronicle of a Summer cannot guarantee the communality and revelation it seeks.

Yet it can at least create the terms for its possibility. Whether it is a film about sports hopefuls or people discussing their work and lives, we might ask what is the aim sought. But we also want to feel that in that aim a high degree of contingency has been possible. If we find that an exciting game of football that ended five-four was rigged, our perception of that game changes forever. The degree of chance involved was part of the pleasure of the viewing experience. To find that chance had nothing to do with it removes most of its ontological purpose: its purpose as a game of the unforeseeable. This is true of documentary as well. If many will admire When We Were Kings over Hoop Dreams it rests partly on the fact that Gast edited the footage after the event but had no control over it as an event. If we admire Chronicle of a Summer over Hoop Dreams it rests on different criteria. Rouch and Morin’s film in searching out truths is also willing to acknowledge the manipulation involved and the degree of failure that resulted. As everyone in the film gets to watch the rough cut of the material, so the directors realise their experiment has been a partial failure. But even its failure has been a certain kind of success. It wouldn’t be much of an experiment if it had factored into the work an inevitable success. While a fiction film can arc its revelations according to dramatic principles, a cinema verite film’s purpose is to try and find these moments without planting them there. In this sense the film is a bit like a therapy session where the circumstances readily allow for the possibility of deep emotions being activated: they can hope but not expect the feelings’ manifestation. Nobody goes to a therapist to tell them what they had for breakfast, but that doesn’t mean as a consequence they will inevitably recall a traumatic moment from their childhood.

The question of how much a documentarist can manipulate their subject is both a question of ethics and aesthetics. If Sperber has a problem with Hoop Dreams it perhaps doesn’t only lie in the attempt to shape the story, but also in the idea that the story James shapes isn’t very fresh in the first place. It gives to the film not just dramatic form, but also cliched presentation. Hence Sperber’s point about sports films almost “always enveloped in a very conservative ideology.” It does not seek out a new thought and feeling in subject or viewer. This is exactly what Chronicle of a Summer aspires to do, and why Richard Brody is correct to point up the political nature of the work. To ask someone if they are happy is a question that can have many ramifications, but one of the most likely, though the least acknowledged, would be access to a political and historical consciousness. As Brody says: “Chronicle of a Summer challenged both the impersonality of cinematic history and the censorship, official and de facto, that prevailed in French politics—and linked that challenge to the film’s prime subject, individual happiness.” (New Yorker) Brody sees both the Holocaust and events in Algeria at the time as haunting the film, with them coming together in the figure of Marceline. Before we hear her talk about her Holocaust memories, we see her with Jean-Pierre, a student whom we work out is her former lover, but a man who couldn’t make an unhappy woman happy. This, the film suggests, has nothing to do with Marceline’s difficult personality; it is life itself that is difficult as we later find out about the trauma of her Holocaust experiences, and also the Algerian situation. The question of someone being happy is never an isolated question. What we don’t know during this interview is how involved Jean-Pierre happened to be in the Algerian war. As Brody says in his essay, writing on the original film and a follow up account fifty years afterwards: “Jean-Pierre Sergeant, reveals that he was active in the famous ‘Jeanson network’…of French activists working clandestinely to support the cause of Algerian independence – in other words, subverting France’s war efforts.” If De Gaulle was an heroic figure who was during the war head of the government in exile, and someone who was working against the Nazis who were leading Jews like Marceline to the camps, then by the sixties De Gaulle was the colonialist president seen to be oppressing the Algerian people. Marceline is conspicuously older than Jean-Pierre, and it is as though their crises are not quite one and the same. Hers is based on memory and oppression during WWII; his on action and suppression in the present. It is a story worthy of a Resnais film, but of course some of it could not be revealed until many years later. The film’s search for truth was compromised by its capacity to reveal without getting itself banned and without dangerously exposing the lives of its subjects. (Godard’s Le Petit Soldat, about the Algerian war, made the previous year, wasn’t released for several years: it was initially banned and its producer, according to Brody, threatened with grave repercussions if the film was shown anywhere in the world.) The film might seek out the revelatory, but there are constraints nevertheless. A certain self-reflexive honesty acknowledges that difficulty.

The film’s self-reflexive relationship with the reality that it films can be seen in a sequence early on. Here a young couple are interviewed and under the bonnet of a car he is working on (he owns a garage), the husband explains that he has to do a bit of cash in hand work on the side. His wife looks on fretting about his honesty to the camera as he details his duplicity towards the state. There is no sense the film is on the government’s side, but we might wonder how fair it is to include this footage in the film, and then wonder whether it is staged for the cameras to show that many people struggle to get by. Our relationship in such moments is properly ethical as we find ourselves less taking a stance; more musing over the documentarist’s position. If we don’t feel Rouch is unsympathetic towards him and probably more in sympathy with the husband than with the government, then is Rouch nevertheless exposing him and doing the government’s bidding by virtue of showing the scene in the film? And where do we stand: do we side with the young man struggling to get by, or the government that is losing tax receipts? The film’s position seems a bit like the wife’s: she admires the husband’s honesty but is wary of possible consequences. Is this why we might believe the scene is staged: that it might want the truth of a struggling worker’s situation, but not quite a truth that could lead that very struggling worker to get caught out?

Chronicle of a Summer is a film that seeks out less the truth than truths: moments of revelation that function rather differently than the frisson of excitement we find evident in narratively driven documentaries. But its truths are Sociodramatic rather than, say, statistical or behaviourist. Di Iorio, discussing Chronicle of a Summer‘s wider context, says: “If Rouch and Morin were drawn to the French everyday in 1960, it was because recent developments were changing its profile and altering its texture. The rise of consumer culture, the spread of subsidized housing, the dissemination of refrigerators, washing machines, and other domestic technologies after the war had introduced new ways of engaging with the modern world. The feeling of change was a material part of that time, and so was the urge to interpret that change as it happened. The 1950s and 1960s saw the global expansion of polls, surveys, and other metrics that collected information about patterns of consumption.” In the post-war years a key figure in psychology was B. F. Skinner, whose experiments were based on viewing behaviour very externally, and often seeing how we could learn about human actions and motivations through experiments on animals.

Rouch and Morin would seem to be searching for a different approach to being, neither statistically oriented, nor behaviourist, they are looking for the singular; they want to search out individual lives. The problem with the former approach is that the individual is secondary to norms: the statistical and the behaviourally experimental are looking to justify generalisations. Chronicle of a Summer wants to look at the specific. With the new lighter KMT Coutant-Mathor Eclair camera, and the Nagra tape recorder, the technology allowed for a much looser, improvisatory approach to filmmaking. The filmmaker can seek out greater intimacy because the technology allows for its possibility. Any argument made about the camera’s presence getting in the way of people talking honestly about their experiences, might need to take into account the size of the cameras. To film an interview on a bulky Mitchell as opposed to a mobile phone makes the technology very present in the former instance and almost invisible in the latter. When Michel Foucault would talk of a technology of self in, for example, essays and interviews (collected in Ethics), he was very much referring to the Greek term techne as the art of making, but in the context of making oneself. With the technological means at his disposal, Rouch could ask a similar question to the Ancients, but with a very different use of techne as technology. What can the film reveal about lives in Paris at the beginning of the sixties? He might have been coinciding with the statistical and the behavioural, but he uses technological advances for intimiste ends: for revelation.

Now we use the word reveal rather than dramatise. This is central to the difference between documentary and fiction, and also why we have tried to differentiate between Sociodrama and Psychodrama. When we watch a John Cassavetes film or Brando in Last Tango in Paris, we might expect a degree of revelation that goes beyond the nature of the character, but we acknowledge the gap is still there. It isn’t a ruse on the director’s part that everything Gena Rowlands or Brando does is fake: the point is that they are acting: it is psychodramatically revelatory within a situation that accepts there is an actor and a character. Chronicle of a Summer is sociodramatic because there is no such gap, and any fictionalising can seem like a cheat. We can accept that certain things remain unknown (Jean-Pierre’s involvement in the Algerian war for example), but this is no sin of omission: it is the documentarist’s ethical stance that needs to protect an aspect of a person’s life. A character of course does not need to be protected in the same way. It is one reason why we want to insist on the documentative as revelatory, without being naïve in the face of the image. It would be naïve to be shocked by the knowledge that some of Brando’s lines were scripted; it is an understandable surprise if we find that a documentary was scripted too. Our naivete in the fictional instance would lie in assuming that character and actor are one and the same; in documentary they are. A film might choose to play around with fictional and non-fictional categories. The Iranian films Close Up and the Apple, for example, use subjects to play themselves in stories where they are characters within them. But such films often do so as hybrid works that ask us to call into question what happens to be the difference between the two categories. They are not hiding anything; they are revealing the tenuousness often involved.

Rouch’s revelation seems chiefly one of character rather than of form: he wants to reveal the workings of minds and the world of work, but the way to do so is to make us aware that the film is an enquiry: that people have lives here that are being exposed and are entitled to have a say in the process. We come away from the film not with the feeling of being had (where the film has got one over on us), but that the subjects have been got: that the sociodramatic form the filmmakers adopt makes us feel the revelatory dimension of peoples lives. This is cinema verite as a certain type of truth seeking. If we remain too sceptical in the face of the image (and not least because so many documentaries like Hoop Dreams push exciting narration), then we haven’t let the film get one over on us, but we haven’t got the subjects whom Rouch so tenderly, carefully films either.

©Tony McKibbin