'In the Intense Now' ('No Intenso Agora'): Film Review

A Chris Marker-inspired work that wonders what happens to stillborn revolutions.

Joao Moreira Salles scours archives of amateur films to look at the political unrest of 1968.

A two-part essay film meditating on the joy of mass political protest and the deflation that can follow, Joao Moreira Salles' In the Intense Now uses an assortment of found footage to summon the spirit of 1968 in several hotspots. A Brazilian raised partly in Paris whose cosmopolitan mother shot much of the footage used here, Salles is both detached from the events he lived through and sympathetic to the agitators, resulting in an odd flavor of clear-eyed nostalgia. Loaded with present-day relevance one prays won't be prophetic, it will a boon for young cinephiles who know of May '68 (if at all) only via its association with the Nouvelle Vague.

Salles (the brother of Central Station's Walter Salles) begins with a couple of relatively innocuous home movies, his affectless voiceover noting things they might reveal about class dynamics or the weight of history. "We don't always know what we're filming," he points out, which was certainly true for his mother: She took a cultural trip to China in 1968, shooting reels of footage Salles didn't see for years. Here, he compares her journal entries, which say nothing about politics and focus on impressions of Chinese art and architecture, with the Maoist slogans and rituals that fill her home movies. Salles notes with seeming regret that his mother took pictures of places she visited but not where she lived: From the evidence she left (and from Salles' own childhood memories), one would think she knew nothing of the turmoil that overtook Paris that May.

So Salles goes to other citizen-documentarians, finding plenty of anonymously shot footage of students taking to the streets. He offers visual analysis of what their framing means, then segues to old newsreels, beginning a detailed look at Daniel Cohn-Bendit, one of that May's most prominent radicals. Using a variety of sources, he depicts Cohn-Bendit's thrill at the "theater" of protest, showing how well suited he was to his role and, it seems, how much earlier than others he realized the curtain was falling. Following Cohn-Bendit to Berlin, where he allowed a Paris Match photographer to accompany him in exchange for travel expenses, Salles sees a revolution that is already being turned into a product for corporations to market.

(Along these lines and almost heartbreaking is Salles' talk of the movement's Surrealism-inspired slogans — "Workers of the world, have fun"; "Under the paving stones, the beach" — some of which he believes may have been the work of ad men.)

Though he pays attention to the actual grievances raised by protesters, Salles is more invested in understanding the effect protest had on them. He sees them here as the happiest they'll be in their lives, despite existing in a cloud in which it seemed "everything were possible but taking power."

After observing the end of France's general strike, the film shifts to Czechoslovakia for the end of the Prague Spring. Salles finds two home movies — "Reel 25" and "Reel 127" — that capture the start of the Soviet occupation in very different ways, and he muses while we watch about what each method says about the person behind the camera. Then he finds Strange Autumn (a work whose director "V. Rula" gives him- or herself a credit onscreen), which captures “the disheartened air" of a Prague where reformist enthusiasm has been effectively quashed.

This second half (which, like the first, is never confined to one place for long) explores the cost of mass protest movements — the lives lost to violence, the spirits crushed by failure. Less tangibly, with an affecting clip from Romain Goupil's To Die at 30, he looks at the "precocious nostalgia" of 20-ish students who intuit that nothing from here on will matter as much as the past month or two. In Salles' vision, figures like de Gaulle and Mao and Jean-Paul Sartre deserve our sympathy but not much investment. More worth remembering are the people who believed unity would last, then lived to see the future.

Production company: VideoFilmes
Distributor: Icarus Films
Director: Joao Moreira Salles
Producer: Maria Carlota Bruno
Editors: Eduardo Escorel, Lais Lifschitz
Composer: Rodrigo Leao
Venue: Film Forum

In Portuguese, with English subtitles
127 minutes