Le Fond de l'air est rouge (A Grin Without a Cat) (The Base of the Air Is Red) (1977)



Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Movie Info

Chris Marker's remarkable documentary about the rise and fall of the New Left in the 1960s and 1970s was originally released in 1977, but was reworked in 1993 in the wake of the Cold War's end and the collapse of the Soviet Union. A Grin Without a Cat (the idiomatic French title, Le Fond de l'Air Est Rouge, can be literally translated as "The Essence of the Air is Red") is divided into two parts. The first part, called "Fragile Hands," focuses on the emergence of leftist movements circa 1967, the Vietnam War serving as the lightning rod for radicals of all stripes to come together to agitate for their utopian dreams. The second part, entitled "Severed Hands," details the slow demise of the invigorated left, from forces within (the discord between different factions) and without (the role of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. in keeping the countries in their backyards in line). This three-hour epic offers a stunning assemblage of period footage. For younger viewers, excerpts of iconic historical figures such as Fidel Castro, Che Guevarra, Mao Tse-tung, and Salvador Allende should be particularly eye-opening. For all its expansiveness, A Grin Without a Cat flits by with blithe disregard for the audience's level of acquaintance with the events and figures discussed. Consequently, viewers well-versed in the history of the period might find Marker's essay on the New Left more fulfilling than those without any background on the subject. ~ Elbert Ventura, Rovi
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Critic Reviews for Le Fond de l'air est rouge (A Grin Without a Cat) (The Base of the Air Is Red)

All Critics (23) | Top Critics (8)

Just to take in Grin's first few moments, a mash-up of Battleship Potemkin and police whacking May '68 protesters, is to see a mind sifting through chaos and making beautiful, critical sense of it.

Full Review… | May 6, 2009
Time Out
Top Critic

While it regards 1967 as the key turning point of the 20th century, and returns again and again to images of dissidents in the streets, it's alarmingly current.

January 17, 2003
Seattle Times
Top Critic

A timely look back at civil disobedience, anti-war movements and the power of strong voices.

Full Review… | November 8, 2002
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic

This is a movie about the world at war with itself, and the result is riveting, sublime and unforgettable.

Full Review… | September 26, 2002
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic

Fierce, glaring and unforgettable.

May 1, 2002
Top Critic

A work of extraordinary journalism, but it is also a work of deft and subtle poetry.

May 1, 2002
New York Times
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Le Fond de l'air est rouge (A Grin Without a Cat) (The Base of the Air Is Red)


One of Marker's most ambitious films. At the end of his 'militant phase' Marker wanted to make a film made entirely from found footage, and this results in an extremely dense work exploring the rise and fall the new leftist movement throughout the world during the late 60's to 70's. While a lot of the footage is of the talking heads variety, they are edited in an associative collage form that doesn't cohere to a set message or idea but instead form a sort of dialogue that examines the events shown in relation to similar events during that period of time. I found this much harder to get into than Marker's other films because there is so much history and politics that I'm not familiar with. While there are some of Marker's humor and wry commentary, the long passages of talking heads does make a lot of the film quite dry. This was his last feature before Sans Soleil, and the use of color tinting hints to digital image manipulations in 'The Zone'.

X. T. C.
X. T. C.

(Theatre) (First Viewing, 1st Marker film) A difficult but ultimately rewarding film experience. Communism is not something taught in much detail in the American school systems, so for the first half of the film I felt like I was desperately treading water, trying to keep my head above the waves (and quickly losing the battle) as I tried to understand the importance of Communism on world events during the 1960's as it was presented to me in rapid-fire pace. It was rough going for the first hour or so. But suddenly I began to realize that while I wasn't fully comprehending the details of the situations presented to me, the power of the images conveyed the message that (I think) Marker was trying to get across- the power of the masses when they unify. A four hour version of [b]A Grin Without a Cat[/b] was made in 1977, in 2002 Marker re-edited the film, cutting out over an hour of its running time, which he felt made the film too confusing. A fascinating film, especially now upon reflection. Its artistry and power makes a contemporary documentary like [b]Bowling for Columbine[/b] seem like child's play- juvenille, obvious and artless (not that I liked the film much anyway, but that's beside the point). I'm definitely looking forward to seeing more of Marker's work in the coming weeks- just from one film (and not even one of his signature ones), it is obvious Marker possesses a unique perspective and voice in cinema .

Jesse Last
Jesse Last

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