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72 minutes · 2012
Jean Rouch completed this quasi-documentary in 1958, and it still feels ahead of its time. Rather than make his own record of Treichville, a district in the Ivory Coast city Abidjan, Rouch recruited several local men and women to create scenes based on their lives. With this innovative working method, Rouch raises a question implicit in all nonfiction filmmaking: Who’s the genuine auteur, the director or the subjects? And yet the results don’t feel at all cerebral. The onscreen behavior is lively and casual in spite of being prearranged, and the unconventional, arrhythmic editing (which sometimes suggests a filmic equivalent of cubist portraiture) creates the feeling of bounding ever forward. Jean-Luc Godard praised this as a masterpiece upon first release, and it’s easy to see why; the film introduces aesthetic and even philosophical conceits that would be central to his own work as a director. In French with subtitles.

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