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'A Grin Without A Cat'

Murder and betrayal on the left

Friday, January 31, 2003

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Film Critic

Good morning, Vietnam: An American pilot drops napalm and gleefully tells a cameraman in the co-pilot seat to "watch 'em run down below!"

That is one of the early images in "A Grin Without a Cat," French director Chris Marker's gargantuan, three-hour polemical history of the rise and fall of 20th-century leftist radicalism.


'A Grin Without A Cat'

RATING: PG-13 in nature for violent images and political content

DIRECTOR: Chris Marker

Critic's call:


Of this documentary's dead heroes, Che Guevara receives the most attention. Of the living ones, primary focus is on Fidel Castro, with his exuberant intelligence, charisma and integrity (evidenced by his public opposition to the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia).

The leftist equivalent of the Christian WWJD -- "What would Jesus do?" -- is, "What would Che say today?" The answer, says Marker, is that he'd say, "The example of Cuba will not be repeated." Yet despite all efforts to destroy it, Fidel's Cuba survives to haunt and taunt the colossus of the North.

Much too much time in this epic "Grin" is devoted to the tedious internal arguments of the French Communist Party -- a subject of burning interest only to Europeans. Meanwhile, there is a great dearth of material on the U.S. anti-war student protest movement, represented by a few token minutes of footage from the Harvard demonstrations. HARVARD? Those effete snobs were johnny-come-latelies. Any student of American radical campus history knows that, aside from Berkeley, it was COLUMBIA that led the way for university stop-the-war efforts in April 1968.

Only the most dogged of such students will be interested in the vicissitudes of the internecine battles among Leninists, Stalinists, Trotskyites, Maoists, Socialists and Anarchists -- in Marker's indictment of the fall and failure of Communist parties in Bolivia, Congo, France, Czechoslovakia, etc. But he makes it clear that many of those falls were "assisted," viz.: Allende and his democratically elected government did not "fail" in Chile. They were murdered by the United States of America.

Nixon in China. Brezhnev in Prague. Tito in Tehran with the Shah. The litany is grim in this long dialectic of revolutionary betrayal from within and without.

"A Grin Without a Cat" is a work of art as well as journalism, totally one-sided but more important now than ever for those who want to understand the deep background of George W. Bush's impending, orchestrated war on Iraq.

Barry Paris can be reached at 412-263-3859.

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