Le Chant du Styréne

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 29, 2015

Given what Alain Resnais had already done (magisterial non-fiction treatments of major Holocausts, and the French National Library), and what he would go on to do (the master of modernist ennui, and then of antic geriatrical cinema), this little bagatelle of an industrial film comes off as more than just a little bit ironical. The rhymed Alexandrines (care of Raymond Queneau, who also wrote Zazie dans le Métro) are really impressive, but they’re too celebratory to take at face value. Surely this is a Brechtian detail, designed to undercut the entire undertaking. Given the assignment, given Bert Haanstra’s contemporaneous Glas and all, you can’t really take it otherwise. This celebration of plastic and its manufacture might also, mostly be a veiled critique of the whole enterprise!

I may be wrong there. Let’s pretend not, for a minute, and for discussion’s sake. An important ethical question arises. Should a professional do this to his client? If he disagrees with the product or the values that inform its manufacture, shouldn’t he just refuse the commission? And as for across-the-board disagreement—you’re a socialist, say—what if your ideological foes are demonstrably trying to profit reasonably, while producing a useful product? Problems there, given how many nice family men doubtless populated or even caused the blasted landscapes of Night and Fog. But Buñuel was not justified in cutting down Mack Swain’s Christmas tree, either. (That incident is described in Buñuel’s simultaneously charming and blistering autobiography, My Last Sigh.) A puzzlement!

All those things considered, this technology is amazing, and the images and assemblies say as much.