UNE SIMPLE HISTOIRE a film by MARCEL HANOUN. 1959. France. 68 min. A tender look at a mother and daughter living on the margins of Paris by an unsung French filmmaker. GUEST SELECTED BY ANNIE BAKER.


This week, we’re delighted to present a guest selection from the brilliant playwright and filmmaker Annie Baker to celebrate the release of her filmmaking debut, Janet Planet. Much like Janet Planet, her guest pick — Marcel Hanoun’s own excellent feature debut Une Simple Histoire (A Simple Story)— mines the limitations of language, the difficulty of a mother-daughter relationship, and the mysteries of storytelling.


Hanoun, whose films remain tragically overlooked, worked on his own wavelength. He was not part of the Nouvelle Vague (Godard, Truffaut), did not quite square with the Left Bank (Resnais, Varda), and was not part of the generation that succeeded both groups (Garrel, Eustache); nevertheless, he was admired by all.


Une Simple Histoire concerns a woman and her daughter, seemingly looking to restart their lives, who arrive in Paris penniless and become subject to the prejudices and kindness of strangers. It is a gut-wrenching film, matching the bare-bones beauty of Bresson with the humanist appeals of Rossellini and Renoir. 




“With poor and derisory resources, with the help and goodwill of those who have worked with me, I have been able to make my films. I have stolen them, torn them from a place in the shadows rarely offered to the public.” MARCEL HANOUN


Central to Une Simple Histoire, and Hanoun’s practice as both filmmaker and theoretician, is an element of formal experimentation. Here, he presents filmed events in the present tense alongside a matter-of-fact narration in the past tense, creating an opening for contradictions, coincidences, and echoes to occur between the film’s voice-over and its images. This interplay, which subverts the simplicity of the story alluded to in the title, yields a gripping cinematic scenario; to quote film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum’s review of the film upon release: “Une Simple Histoire creates a new kind of filmic reality, a fugue-like narrative form which infuses a simple story with unnatural beauty and power.


Marcel Hanoun was born in Tunis in 1929, when Tunisia was still a French protectorate. He moved to Paris following the Liberation and worked there as a journalist and a photographer. In 1956, he directed his first film for television, a documentary about Hungarian refugees fleeing Soviet Russia titled Men Who Have Lost Their Roots. After completing a few more television documentaries, he made Une Simple Histoire, a few more documentaries and films, and eventually the highly-acclaimed Seasons tetralogy (1968 – 1972). Later in life, he founded two film journals: Cinéthique and Changer le cinéma.


Text written by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer.