From May '68 to December 1999
by Lisa Nesselson

The mind likes round numbers (which is why the Euro makes people uneasy - changing French Francs to Euros and vice versa involves five decimal places) like the 50th Cannes Film Festival (last year) or the 30th anniversary of May '68 (this year).

I am far from an unconditional fan of the thoughts and prose proffered by Cahiers du Cinema. For example, according to one of their critics, "Babe" (yep, the aodrable talking pig movie) failed as a concept because - get this - despite their different barnyard utterences the animals could talk among themselves and be understood but the humans couldn't understand what any of them were saying. But the folks at Cahiers have done a superlative job chronicling both of the anniversaries mentioned above.

Their hardcover volume "Cannes Cinema, Cinquante Ans De Festival Vus Par Traverso" (with photos by Cannes' own Traverso clan, a family of gifted photographers) is a joy (there are captions and a bit of text, but you needn't read French to relish the illustrations) and the special issue they published last year with one representative essay about the festival from each of the 50 years is an exquisite trip down memory lane.

This year's May issue of Cahiers is brimming with nifty interviews attempting to put into perspective a rollicking mini-revolution that both scarred and healed the collective French psyche.

Cannes itself was called to a halt due to "events." Louis Malle told me in 1989 that he found the upheaval of May '68 magical and inspiring as he had recently returned from a long trip to India. He went on to make "Milou en Mai" ("May Fools" in English) about the rumblings of revolution as experienced from the cut-off countryside.

A film in the Directors' Fortnight, "La Vie sur Terre" (Life on Earth) by Abderrahmane Sissako offers a contempo take on the same idea. The Mauritanian director, who lives in France, returns to his father's tiny village in Mali during the last few days of 1999. Donkeys and the occasional bicycle are the only transportation through the dirt streets, the birds that threaten the rice crop are the biggest topic of conversation and the only telephone is at the local post office where getting a clear connection to the outside world is a matter of luck. For some locals, making a phone call comes as naturally as, say, refuelling the space shuttle would be to the average New Yorker or Parisian. The local radio station has two microphones and one turntable. When the DJ has to go shoo birds away from the rice crop, he goes off the air. The joke in the leisurely tale is this: the year ends, the century ends, the millenium ticks over (as reported from Paris and Tokyo by Radio France International), but not a single thing changes in the village. The same goats meander by on January 1, 2000 as on Dec 31, 1999.

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