April 04, 2018

Philippe Garrel, The Zanzibar Group, and the 50th Anniversary of the '68 Uprisings in France

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the May 1968 socialist uprisings in France, making this year a fitting time to have a closer look at the works of Philippe Garrel. In 1968, Garrel was in the thick of things as student demonstrations, general strikes and the occupation of factories and institutions ground daily life in the country to a halt and led to violent confrontation with police. While the protests themselves didn’t bring about widespread change, they did spur a cultural dialogue about capitalism, American imperialism and outdated power structures.

Shortly afterward, Garrel joined up with the Zanzibar Group, a radical collective of French filmmakers who sought to upend traditional cinema, seizing on the political unrest as a launching point. Financed by heiress Sylvina Boissonnas, the group, which also included Jackie Raynal, Serge Bard, Daniel Pommereulle, Olivier Mosset, Frédéric Pardo, Caroline de Bendern and Zouzou, famously set out on a filmmaking trip across Africa, thus earning them their Maoist island moniker. In total, the short-lived group produced 13 films on tight budgets (and with unpaid actors) in two years. By 1970, however, Boissonnas had moved on to the French feminist movement and the filmmakers disbanded. By then, Garrel had taken up with Nico who would be his personal and creative muse for many years.

The Films of Philippe Garrel, screening all month at Lightbox Film Center, captures Garrel’s  career from just before the formation of Zanzibar, all the way up to the present day in which Garrel has returned to more personal and narrative filmmaking. Yet Zanzibar and its characteristics—little to no scripted action, an emphasis on improvisation and a drug-infused minimalist aesthetic can be seen in the first screenings of the series: The Inner Scar and The Virgin’s Bed. 2005’s Regular Lovers revisits the May 1968 era through the story of a young poet who is energized by the rebellion and later disillusioned by its inability to truly change the world. That screening will be accompanied by the short Actua I, Garrel’s footage from May 1968.

Here’s a link to Nico’s song The Falconer, which appears, along with Nico herself, in The Inner Scar.

To view the upcoming screenings of Philippe Garrel, click here.