Immersive, involving, sometimes revelatory, sometimes curiously naive and on occasion thuddingly obvious, Joao Moreira Salles' found-footage study of revolutionaries in the streets of Paris, Prague and other countries in 1968 would stand as an invaluable assemblage simply on the basis of its archival finds alone. That Salles muses in voiceover as his exhumed film clips -- from amateur sources, TV broadcasts, previous documentaries -- survey the streets of '68 proves both boon and bane. He's hushed, whispering tensely, reaching for poetry, occasionally pausing on a frame so that he can draw our attention to some detail that has caught his eye. He might pull you in; he might push you away -- especially when his attention wanders to Chairman Mao's China, which he regards not with a documentarian's scrutiny but a son's enchantment for his mother in her youth. (She shot the footage he uses, on vacation there in '66.)
We'll get to that. First, the material that compels. As we watch Daniel Cohn-Bendit and the other student leaders of the not-quite-leaderless social revolution of May 1968, Salles considers the ways that the radical spirit would soon be co-opted if not quite crushed; how Cohn-Bendit understood himself to be playing something of a character; and, most pressingly, how the movement, as mediated through press coverage and even the amateur footage that Salles has collected, developed a quite traditional conception of its lead actors and its own extras. Women and minorities often went unheard in '68 France. And they also were tellingly overlooked by the people filming the scenes that Salles features. At its best, Salles' analysis sometimes makes the obvious arresting, even moving.