Mourir à trente ans/ Half A Life (Romain Goupil, France, 1982)

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João Moreira Salles in The Intense Now calls this the best film of the events of May 1968 in Paris. Certainly it’s the most beautiful: all those Super 8 images of handsome young men in love with cinema, horsing around, pretending to be nuns, looking for sex with pretty young women they promise to include in their films, poking fun at the earnestness of those selling L’Humanité on Sundays, being screamed at by the neighbours. The Super 8 images these kids shot for fun are enlarged and end up looking slightly grainy, or slightly our of focus, slightly spectral. The results of the processing of the film stock is soft, all slightly blurred edges, beautiful – a tonic from all the high definition sharpness of current cinema; as are the composition of the images themselves, which are very deliberate, often geometric. This is someone who’s been around cinema and in love with it from a very young age.

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If the film begins with young men in love with cinema, it also charts their engagement with social change: on a trip to Spain as teenagers, they refuse to eat so that the Fascist tourist industry there won’t get any of their money. They return skinny, handsome, ready for adventures in radicalism. Soon, they get involved in the politics of their high school and of the communist party; they become student activists and ready to play a role in the events of 68 which will soon unfold. If cinema and social change are two of the film’s major interests what overhangs all is death.

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The film is dedicated to, amongst others, Anne Sylvie and the voice-over at the very beginning, that famous beginning cited at such length in In the Intense Now tells us:

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Anne Sylvie, to die at thirty, the film is a little bit her story. She was tall, pretty, brunette, student, activist; she handled the high schools. I met her early on, in ‘66; she was in charge of our theoretical and practical training.   I was secretly in love with her, and I can’t imagine I was the only one. She was tall, pretty, brunette. She is dead now. She committed suicide.

Dominic: To Die at 30/ ‘Half a Life’ . This film is a little bit his story. I had become an activist and he was the first student I recruited at Condorçet hight school. We became inseparable. We prepared all our actions together. One day, on the way back from a congress, he died in an accident.

Pierre Louis: Later I was working in film. I noticed Pierre-Louis did the rounds as a courier. He was a former militant. I did everything I could to get him a gig. We succeeded, he became an assistant editor. Then one night he killed himself.

March 23, 1978, Michel Recanati. Michel’s parent told me Michel had disappeared leaving his ID and cash behind. I shuddered. Michel is my entire political history, my only friend, the one most by my side. Years and years of projects, dreams, illusions. Hundreds of meetings, scores of protests. We were thick as thieves. Which is why I explained to his family that he must have taken off in search of another adventure. I deeply understood his desire to vanish. Since I , too that 23rd of March wanted to be gone. A few days before I had met Francine, a magnificent young lady, blonde and everything. I immediately loved her like mad so stayed. It’s when I heard about his death in 81 that I wanted to tell his story, our story.’

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That beginning is an incantation that casts a spell. The film is composed of images and and a language that vividly evokes an era. The film is a great autobiographical video essay on the intersection of love of cinema, social justice, biography, social history, the student movement in France, the events of 68 and their aftermath, structured as a quest to investigate the suicide of a friend but that is metaphor for a generation of people who lived so intensely they committed suicide: by thirty, a half life, they’d lived so intensely they couldn’t figure out how to deal with the aftermath. Everyone looks young and beautiful in these dreamlike Super 8 black and white images. It’s extraordinary to see what they did so young. The film is textured through with a nostalgia that is slightly disconcerting in those so young. Images, sounds, voice-over all paint a romance of what it was like to live in the ‘Intense Now’ that led up to May 68 and the let-down of its aftermath.

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José Arroyo

 

 

 

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