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In Association with
La Jetée (1962)
Director: Chris Marker

Sans Soleil (1983)
Director: Chris Marker

reviews by J.C. Hartley

This DVD double-bill of essays on time and memory is by the prolific, but anonymous, French director Chris Marker. La Jetée inspired Gilliam's 12 Monkeys, one of the few films where Bruce Willis reins in his playing to the camera (M. Night Shyamalan got him to do it twice), and where Brad Pitt displayed an early desire to move out of a comfort zone.

Proceeding as a sequence of optically printed photographs, displayed at a varying pace and sometimes repeated, and with a spoken narration, the film both challenges and reinforces what film is and does. Following a devastating world war, a wounded prisoner is sent back to the past in a time experiment. Only he has shown the mental strength to withstand the test, due to a childhood fixation with a woman seen on the jetty at Orly airport, where he also witnessed a man's murder. In his trips back he becomes romantically involved with the woman. A visit to the future provides a device which will restore the postwar world, and also a means to escape, but he chooses the jetty at Orly, where his captors pursue and kill him. He is the man he saw as a child.

This is a familiar device in SF, where an individual or event provides a fixed point in time. The most common use is the person required to travel back in time to guarantee their own existence, and is often used to play on Oedipal nightmares, even in such popular versions of SF as Back To The Future, where the protagonist's mother hits on him, but can equally be embraced as pure whimsy as in the TV play The Flipside Of Dominic Hyde. Marker's film is melancholic, philosophical, and questioning of the whole process of memory. The influence can still be seen in films like Source Code.

Sans Soleil ('sunless') is purported to be the images collected by a world-travelling cameraman Sandor Krasna, with an accompanying narration from his letters to a female friend. Again, Marker is interrogating memory and its unreliability. The French version has as an epigraph a quotation from Racine, about distance between countries compensating for the closeness of time. The English version quotes Eliot, stating that time is always time, place always place, and that reality is only fixed within those particular boundaries.

Marker presents images with Krasna's interpretations from his 'letters' but it is our assumption that the words fit the pictures, we accept these interpretations as we accept documentary footage. There is no Krasna, it is Marker himself, some of the footage is borrowed. Film itself is a deceitful medium; the camera does lie. Krasna's letters interpret some recent history, the guerrilla war for independence in the African state of Guinea-Bisseau. These images are shown with contrasting footage of everyday life and religious rituals in Japan. What comes across is how 'alien' we are, and that it is only in the small things we find commonality.

Marker has an interesting sequence in Sans Soleil on Hitchcock's Vertigo, and it is perhaps a stronger criticism of the power of film that this portion seems to say more about memory and it's unreliability than any faux-documentary.

La Jetee

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