10 Must-See May 68 Films (2022)

10 Must-See May 68 Films (2)

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!

William Wordsworth penned these lines about July 1789 but they apply equally well to May 1968 — a time when, especially for idealistic youths angry at the repressive status quo, a wide horizon of possibilities suddenly opened up. The nationwide trade-union strike, the uprising of the students, De Gaulle’s government almost toppling, the whole of France in a month-long standstill, the riots, the gas grenades of the police, the overturned cars, the street’s paving stones dredged out and used as projectiles — it was as if society was about to be changed from its very bedrock up. What happened in Paris 50 years ago this month remains one of the most discussed events in post-war French history, and has captured imaginations worldwide. But there’s also disillusionment in its legacy, for the eventual failure of the students and the workers to coordinate their activities can only recall Trotsky’s words: “Even the most heroic intelligentsia is nothing without the masses.”Here are ten films encapsulating the highs and lows of this failed revolution which together, complementing and overlapping each other, provide a solid primer into May 68 and its legacy.

10 Must-See May 68 Films (3)

(Video) The Diamond Arm (comedy, dir. Leonid Gaidai, 1968)

Weekend (Jean-Luc Godard, 1967)
A film adrift in the cosmos, a film found on a garbage heap, as it self-referentially describes itself. InWeekend,Godard was in sync with the pulse of contemporary France, showcasing it in a picaresque pop-art panorama of (among many other things) apocalyptic traffic jams, cameos by literary and historical characters, and the anarchic end of civilisation in a forest peopled by cannibalistic student-guerillas. All this made the film an uncanny prophecy of the May 68 movement, predicting both its rise and demise. But more than this, Weekendwas a complete shattering of every film rule-book in existence — if May 68 would briefly give people hope that everything was possible, this film was the incendiary and liberating proof that at least in filmmaking it was. Godard called ends his own film with a title card announcing the end of cinema, but for France it was an announcement of things to come.

10 Must-See May 68 Films (4)

Far from Vietnam (Various directors, 1967)
The student movements of May 68 grew from the momentum of anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, so this collectively-made protest-film is tapping right into the zeitgeist. Among documentary footage from Vietnam and the streets of Paris and New York, the segments by Resnais and Godard stick out. Resnais stages an actor’s cynical monologue on global politics and media that still rings true today. Godard also expresses the impotent anguish of the intellectual amid the brutality of the world, but in a far more personal way. As a film made by people from varying backgrounds it also hints at the disunity of voices in France’s oppositional scene. Chris Marker, the overseer of the project, cut out Agnès Varda’s episode, deeming it not militant enough — an act of censorship that foreshadowed the divides (not to mention the masculine bias) within May 68.

10 Must-See May 68 Films (5)

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Maydays (aka Grand Soirs et Petit Matins), (William Klein, 1968)
Klein (who contributed to Far from Vietnam) was living in Paris and renowned as he was for his spontaneous street photography he leapt at the chance to film events on the ground. His vignettes show lively discussions about just what it is that’s happening, how the students can forge a stronger connection with the workers, and what can come next — there was an opening for the imagining of potential new worlds and social systems. Which of course they’d never get a chance to put into practice. Besides all the talk, there’s also many scenes of the demonstrations and riots. Thanks to Klein’s trusty camera and sharp eye,Maydays makes us privy to a mix of indoor and outdoor scenes, the former filmed with a wide-angle lens up-close to the subjects, the latter with his intrepidly roaming zoom lens. The result is a series of electric, energetic rushes, depicting history in the process of happening.

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Mai 68 (Gudie Lawaetz, 1974)
Out of the kilometres of film left behind by individual filmmakers like Klein and cinematic collectives, who gave up editing what they shot after the disillusion of failure, the British journalist Gudie Lawaetz took several years to piece together this almost-definitive audio-visual relic of May 68. Her film mixes interviews of the main instigators such as Daniel Cohn-Bendit with archive footage chronicling all the major turning points (the occupation of the Sorbonne, the nocturnal riots, the strikes, De Gaulle clinging on, the death of a young boy, the return to the factories by workers who feel betrayed by their unions).It answers the question “What happened?” so amply that future attempts at historical capsules into May 68 would be redundant. As we’ll see, later films would instead try to answer the question “What happened next?” (or “What happened elsewhere?”).

10 Must-See May 68 Films (7)

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Half a Life (Romain Goupil, 1982)
Michel Recanati was Goupil’s best friend; together they were committed political grass-roots activists before, during, and after May 68. Four years after his friend’s suicide, Goupil made this film about protest, friendship, and cinephilia charting more than a decade through a mix of archive footage, home videos and talking heads. It’s touching and profoundly personal, but also a lucid attempt to answer a central question: Why did so many of the ’68 generation later take their own lives? It’s a collective picture ofwastedpotential and lives interrupted by the great disillusionment that came after the euphoria of possibility that were those 3 weeks in May. Once that slim slither of hope that society’s same-old immutability could be genuinely contested was taken away, and despite Michel and others continuing to search for meaning, nothing could ever be the same again.

10 Must-See May 68 Films (8)

Milou en Mai (Louis Malle, 1990)
May 1968, the south of France: an eccentric group of relatives convene in a countryside estate to squabble over the inheritance left by their just-deceased grandmother, whose body is still in the library — cemetery workers are on strike, after all. Far removed from events they may be, but the wave of counter-establishment fervor sweeps along even this motley crew: they subconsciously hum the ‘Internationale’, form an impromptu commune, want to partake in ‘free love’… Malle’s charming comical send-up works as metaphor for France itself, the highs and lows and the rifts left in the wake of May 68. Its obvious ancestor is Renoir’sLa Règle du Jeu but with Jean-Claude Carrière as co-writer and the presence of Michel Piccoli, it makes us think of Buñuel’sDiscreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. In that film a group kept unsuccessfully trying to have a meal, while here it is a funeral that can never go ahead.

10 Must-See May 68 Films (9)

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The Dreamers (Bernardo Bertolucci, 2003)
Bertolucci was a Godardian in the early 1960s, intellectualising the pitfalls of the European Left inBefore the Revolution, but all that later changed.Just like his lavish spectacle The Last Emperor staged Puyi’s retreat into the cocoon of his court bedroom and concubines while his nation was burning, so Bertolucci here makes the riots the backdrop to a love-triangle between a young American and two French twins — together they escape the social and political turmoil outside through sexual exploration and discussing old movies in the safety of a bourgeois apartment. Based on Gilbert Adair’s semi-autobiographical novel, it’s a film reminiscing about what those who lived through that time remember more than revolutionary slogans: a coming of age. If Goupil’s film had conjectured that May 68 was also a period of identity-seeking, cinephilia, and sex,The Dreamers categorically seals the QED with some flair.

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Regular Lovers (Philippe Garrel, 2005)
What’s remarkable about Garrel’s take on May 68 is seeing the riots distilled through his minimalist aesthetic, in high-contrast black-and-white. While the lives of François (played by Garrel’s son Louis) and his friends are cluttered to the point of confusion, his camera reduces Paris to a post-apocalyptic war-zone, eerily barren and silent, where everything is in ruins or burning, and protesters advance like zombies in recurring refrains of revolution. The second half of the film moves forward to 1969, the lull after the letdown, and becomes more of a group portrait of François, his lover Lilie, and their bo-bo friends living in a Parisian apartment where they do little more than make art and smoke opium with insouciance. The transition from idealistic activism to complacent escapism is suffocating — these young people search for meaning post-May 68 in other places than did Michel in Goupil’s film, but similarly find no easy way to adjust.

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(Video) Mr. Tambourine Man (Live at the Newport Folk Festival. 1964)

Something in the Air (Olivier Assayas, 2012)
As suggested by its original French title (Après Mai), Assayas’ autobiographical portrait of the artist as a young radical is about the generation right after ’68, the younger siblings of those students who participated in May. In the early 1970s, Gilles the teenage Assayas-surrogate tries to find his path amid political activism, splintered relationships, and a need for artistic self-expression. Buy can you be true to your individual identity while also committed to a collective political ideology? More than any film on this list it portrays the tension between politics and art, with glimpses into the filmmaking collectives of the time and their academic debates on what film style to use. Assayas’ own style here is lucid and free of nostalgia, with a calm rhythm of smooth takes and fades-to-black, coalescing into a detailed fresco of the transition point between the period of activism and the imminent era of the self that would thrive come the 1980s.

10 Must-See May 68 Films (12)

In the Intense Now (João Moreira Salles, 2017)
May 68 remains associated with Paris but it would be short-sighted to forget that similar protests were occurring around the world. This personal essay-film byJoão Moreira Salles (brother of Walter) is transnational in scope, mixing archive footage of protests, riots and mass funerals in France, Czechoslovakia and Brazil in 1968, with home videos of his mother’s trip to China around the same time. Through his meditative voiceover, Salles threads the film with an exploration of the nature of filmed images: what they can tell us and what they cannot, the way they capture moments to make them ‘now’ forever, and how they offer a second-hand sense of people riding the crest of a wave in time without thinking ahead of the future. Students in Paris put it well when they said that some of their minutes during those weeks felt like eternities.Time is the thief of the present moment’s intensity, and filming is but a small attempt to counter that. May 68’scycles of euphoria and disenchantment stay eternal.


What were the May 68 protests about? ›

The unrest began with a series of far-left student occupation protests against capitalism, consumerism, American imperialism and traditional institutions.

What happened on May 1968? ›

Anti-riot police charge through the streets of Paris during violent student demonstrations on May 6, 1968. On May 3, students at the Sorbonne University in Paris rallied to support their Nanterre colleagues by occupying an amphitheater. They were brutally dispersed by Paris police.

Why did students protest in 1968? ›

Multiple factors created the protests in 1968. Many were in response to perceived injustice by governments—in the USA, against the Johnson administration—and were in opposition to the draft, and the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War.

What was the main protest by the people in Paris? ›

Protests against Emmanuel Macron
Date7 May 2017 – Present
Caused byGlobalisation Neoliberalism Corruption French labour law reform High fuel taxes Police brutality Emmanuel Macron's economic positions Authoritarianism Political repression
MethodsDemonstrations, riots, vandalism, arson, assault
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What was happening in 1968? ›

Other events that made history that year include the Vietnam War's Tet Offensive, riots in Washington, DC, the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1968, and heightened social unrest over the Vietnam War, values, and race. The National Archives holds records documenting the turbulent time during 1968.

What was 1968 like? ›

The year 1968 remains one of the most tumultuous single years in history, marked by historic achievements, shocking assassinations, a much-hated war and a spirit of rebellion that swept through countries all over the world.

What happened on May 1st 1968? ›

Bobby Kennedy Gunned Down on Campaign Trail.

On what day of May 1968 did second Tuesday fall? ›

May 28, 1968 (Tuesday)

A Garuda Indonesia Airlines Convair 990 Coronado jet crashed shortly after taking off from Mumbai on a flight to Karachi, killing all 29 people on board. Debris from the plane fell onto the village of Bilalpada, killing one person on the ground.

How many people died in the Tlatelolco massacre? ›

According to U.S. national security archives, American analyst Kate Doyle documented the deaths of 44 people; however, estimates of the actual death toll range from 300 to 400, with eyewitnesses reporting hundreds dead.

Why is 1968 a turning point? ›

The year 1968 is also described as the turning point in Americas history because of the civil rights movement, the anti-war protests, and the technological advancements made throughout this eventful year that would forever change America.

What were the demands of the student strike of 1968? ›

The strikes arose to protest the perpetual Eurocentric lens on education, as the demands of the strikers included an establishment of an autonomous department for Ethnic Studies, more faculty of color representation, and more representation of students of color on campus.

What was the result of the strike at San Francisco College 1968 by the Black Student Union? ›

"The student-led strike of 1968 at San Francisco State changed this campus and opened doors to not only students and faculty of color but to a broad range of men and women who had been excluded or overlooked in higher education," President Corrigan says.

What were the five main causes of the French Revolution? ›

The causes can be narrowed to five main factors: the Estate System, Absolutism, ideas stemming from the Enlightenment, food shortages, and The American Revolution.

What were the six causes of French Revolution? ›

The 6 Main Causes of the French Revolution
  • Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette. France had an absolute monarchy in the 18th century – life centred around the king, who had complete power. ...
  • Inherited problems. ...
  • The Estates System & the bourgeoise. ...
  • Taxation & money. ...
  • The Enlightenment. ...
  • Bad luck.

What was the main protest by 1 point the people? ›

This is Expert Verified Answer

The main protest by the people was the price of bread. This question is in reference to the history chapter 'The French Revolution. '

Who was president in May 1968? ›

The following is a timeline of the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson from January 1, 1968, to January 20, 1969.

What ended in 1968? ›

The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., leader of the Civil Rights Movement, takes place in April of 1968 when he was killed by James Earl Ray. King's assassination leads to violence and race riots in U.S. cities.

How many years ago was 1968 today? ›

1968: 50 years ago | Smithsonian Institution.

Who was president in 1968? ›

Republican Convention
President(before switches)Vice-Presidential votes
Richard Nixon6921119
Ronald Reagan18210
Ohio governor James A. Rhodes551
Michigan governor George W. Romney501
7 more rows

What inventions were made in 1968? ›

Top 5 Scientific Achievements from 1968
  1. The birth of Intel.
  2. The discovery of pulsars. ...
  3. Georges Charpak develops the multiwire proportional chamber for particle detection. ...
  4. Apollo 8 is the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon. ...
  5. Patent for the jacuzzi whirlpool hot tub granted. ...
24 Jul 2018

What was happening in June 1968? ›

This Day in History - June 5, 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in the Ambassador Hotel by 24-year old Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan. He was shot in the head and died early the next morning.

What day was Memorial Day on in 1968? ›

Johnson, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate Memorial Day, Thursday, May 30, 1968, as a day of prayer for permanent peace, and I designate the hour beginning in each locality at eleven o'clock in the morning of that day as a time to unite in such prayer.

How many days were there in 1968? ›

The year 1968 has 366 days.

What was the immediate cause of rioting in Paris? ›

What was the immediate cause of rioting in Paris? The high price of bread was the immediate cause for rioting in Paris.

Why was the 1968 Olympics so important? ›

Many have viewed Mexico '68 as an Olympics of firsts. It was the first to be hosted by a Latin American country, have East and West Germany compete as separate nations, be televised in colour instead of black and white, have a woman light the Olympic flame, and test for drug misuse (to name merely a few).

Why was lighting the Olympic torch significant in 1968? ›

The Olympic flame was lit in Olympia, Greece, and retraced the steps of Christopher Columbus, discoverer of the New World. This theme celebrated the link between Latin-American and Mediterranean civilizations. At the end of the relay the Olympic cauldron was for the first time lit by a female athlete.

What happened in Mexico City ten days before the start of the 1968 Games? ›

Ten days before the Games were to open, students protesting the Mexican government's use of funds for the Olympics rather than for social programs were surrounded in the Plaza of Three Cultures by the army and fired upon. More than 200 protesters were killed and over a thousand injured.

What were the 3 main protests of the 1960s? ›

All of the protest movements of the 1960s captured public attention and raised questions that were important to the nation. The civil rights movement, the women's movement, and the gay rights movement demanded that Americans consider equality for all citizens in the United States.

Who started the Vietnam War protests? ›

Early protests

Early organized opposition was led by American Quakers in the 1950s, and by November 1960 eleven hundred Quakers undertook a silent protest vigil -- the group "ringed the Pentagon for parts of two days". Protests bringing attention to "the draft" began on May 5, 1965.

What did the student movement accomplish? ›

Impact of the Student Movement

The engagement of young people and students was significant, and their efforts led to essential changes in the civil rights movement and freedom of speech for students. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 expanded civil and voting rights for Black Americans.

How many riots were in 1968? ›

President Lyndon B. Johnson called in the National Guard to the city on April 5, 1968, to assist the police department in quelling the unrest. Ultimately, 13 people were killed, with approximately 1,000 people injured and over 6,100 arrested.
1968 Washington, D.C., riots.
1968 Washington, D.C. riots
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What was the 1960s era called? ›

In the United States the Sixties were also called the "cultural decade" while in the United Kingdom (especially London) it was called the Swinging Sixties.

What was the 60s known for? ›

The 1960s were one of the most tumultuous and divisive decades in world history, marked by the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and antiwar protests, political assassinations and the emerging "generation gap."

How is life different now from the 1960s? ›

Men And Women Are Sharing More Of The Workload

Today, men work an average of 35 hours a week outside the home and spend nine hours a week on housework. The opposite is true for women. Women spend less time on housework than they did in the '60s and they put in more hours working outside the home.

How many US soldiers died in Vietnam? ›

The Vietnam Conflict Extract Data File of the Defense Casualty Analysis System (DCAS) Extract Files contains records of 58,220 U.S. military fatal casualties of the Vietnam War. These records were transferred into the custody of the National Archives and Records Administration in 2008.

Why the Vietnam War was a mistake? ›

For many who study foreign affairs, the Vietnam War was a tragic mistake brought about by U.S. leaders who exaggerated the influence of communism and underestimated the power of nationalism.

How many men died in Vietnam? ›

In 1995 Vietnam released its official estimate of the number of people killed during the Vietnam War: as many as 2,000,000 civilians on both sides and some 1,100,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters. The U.S. military has estimated that between 200,000 and 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers died.

Why do students have the right to protest? ›

The right to protest is an essential tool for political expression and a crucial mechanism through which dissatisfied groups can voice their grievances.

Why do students protest? ›

Such protests encompass a wide range of activities that indicate student dissatisfaction with a given political or academics issue and mobilization to communicate this dissatisfaction to the authorities (university or civil or both) and society in general and hopefully remedy the problem.

What inspired the protest movement of the 1960's? ›

The growth of the New Left and student radicalism began in the early 1960s and reached its height during 1968. This new political movement sprouted protests on college campuses from the East Coast to the West Coast on issues including the Vietnam War, free speech, the environment, and racism.

What was the biggest riot in history? ›

  • 1967 Detroit Riots. The 1967 Detroit Riots were among the most violent and destructive riots in U.S. history. ...
  • 6 Violent Uprisings in the United States.

Why was 1968 a turning point in US history? ›

The year 1968 is also described as the turning point in Americas history because of the civil rights movement, the anti-war protests, and the technological advancements made throughout this eventful year that would forever change America.

Did Martin Luther King riot? ›

The King assassination riots, also known as the Holy Week Uprising, were a wave of civil disturbance which swept the United States following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968.
King assassination riots
DateApril 4 – May 27, 1968
LocationOver 100 cities across the United States
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