La Jetée / Sans Soleil (Criterion) / La Jetée/Sans Soleil (Bilingual) [Blu-ray]
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One of the most influential, radical science-fiction films ever made and a mind-bending free-form travelogue: La JetÃ©e and Sans Soleil couldn’t seem more different—but they’re the twin pillars of an unparalleled and uncompromising career in cinema. A filmmaker, poet, novelist, photographer, editor, and now videographer and digital multimedia artist, Chris Marker (A Grin Without a Cat) has been challenging moviegoers, philosophers, and himself for years with his investigations of time, memory, and the rapid advancement of life on this planet. These two films—a tale of time travel told in still images and a journey to Africa and Japan—remain his best-loved and most widely seen.
GUILLAUME-APPROVED BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
• Restored high-definition digital transfers, approved by director Chris Marker, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks
• Two interviews with filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin
• Chris on Chris, a video piece on Marker by filmmaker and critic Chris Darke
• Two excerpts from the French television series Court-circuit (le magazine): a look at David Bowie’s music video for the song “Jump They Say,” inspired by La JetÃ©e, and an analysis of Hitchcock’s Vertigo and its influence on Marker
• Junkopia, a six-minute film by Marker about the Emeryville Mudflats
• PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by Marker scholar Catherine Lupton, an interview with Marker, notes on the films and filmmaking by Marker, and more
1963 • 27 minutes • Black & White • Monaural • Presented both in English and in French with English subtitles • 1.66:1 aspect ratio
1983 • 103 minutes • Color • Monaural • Presented both in English and in French with English subtitles • 1.66:1 aspect ratio
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We view only one still photo at a time and we assign meaning only because the narrator tells us the significance of each. It doesn't sound like much to describe it so and yet because the technology is so primtive we are somehow less distracted than we would be were this a full-fledged cinematic production with action sequences and a pulsing soundtrack. This is basically a slide-show and that is the key to this films appeal. This film essay works because it asks for a different kind of attention than we are used to giving films. La Jetee asks for a much more personal kind of attention, the kind of attention we give to our own photo albums, slide shows and dreams. But, also, since many of the images look like they could have come from LIFE or National Geographic there is also a kind of generic quality to the slide show and we are lulled into a kind of attentive trance as we get the feeling that Marker is making a connection between our own personal memories/dreams/markers and the generic memories/dreams/markers of the culture at large. Watching this film is like looking at a pile of old magazines and contemplating our own deepest dreams/desires at the same time--perhaps viewing both as vehicles leading to the same place.
The presumption that there is a link between the personal and the universal is not a new idea, it is a presumption that various artists and essayists (Montaigne is the most obvious example) have held throughout history. The idea has developed in two ways. Some (Noam Chomsky is the most famous in our day) argue that the deep structures of the mind are the same in all men regardless of cultural/racial/gender differences. Others argue that man is no particular way but that he is shaped by the culture in which he lives. The former group celebrate universalism (or globalism, a word which began to be used after WWII) and the fact that we are all generic creatures capable of understanding each other. The latter group (and many science fiction writers fall into this group) fear that the more homogenous and pervasive the mass/universal/global culture becomes, the more homogenous man/existence becomes. Marker is in the latter group, so it is no surprise that he has a strange love/hate relationship with technology--for technology is seen to be the thing that facilitates the spreading of sameness as well as the thing that allows us to meditate upon it. In his films there are no special effects nor any of the usual visual or audio markers that we usually equate with science fiction, and the matter-of-fact monotone of the voiceover gives his films the feel of a documentary but a documentary that we somehow feel compelled to watch because as the speaker drones on we are reminded of our own archive of memories and our own personal views on the matters raised. La Jetee alerts us to the importance we place on memory and the recall process in establishing and maintaining an identity in an image saturated world but it also asks us to question the reliability and authenticity of memory and to what extent personal memory has been invaded/colonized by collective memory. In the later Sans Soleil (which makes use of moving images and color and in many ways resembles a contemporary travelogue or catalogue of all the various cultures that co-exist today), Marker alerts us to how conditioned our responses have become. Even in the presence of one exotic culture after another all the narrator can muster is a kind of bored resignation that there is no escape (except perhaps in death, a device/conceit that Godard also makes use of as early as Pierrot le Fou and as recently as Notre Musique) from the universalizing cultural processing machine that we have each internalized and that reduces all to a monotonous sameness.
That said, the films are at once both generic and intensely personal. The latter film is perhaps the more intimate as it is delivered as a personal letter. What is personal about existence and what merely generic is the question that informs every still and every moving image in a Marker film. This strangely unsolvable riddle is what gives the films their timeless power.
This is film essay/art of the highest order.
I'm not terribly sure what I can say about Chris Marker's La Jetee that hasn't been said by just about everyone else, so I'll keep this short. You probably already know this, but if you don't, it was the inspiration for David and Janet Peoples' screenplay for the Terry Gilliam film 12 Monkeys, rightly considered by the various-and-sundry on the IMDB message boards to be one of the top 250 movies of all time. (Interestingly, La Jetee has a slightly higher numerical rating; it lacks enough votes to secure a top-250 placing.) But where Gilliam molded the storyline into his most accessible (and commercially successful) film, Marker seemed to have no interest at all in making something accessible, or even likable; it's hard, in fact, to even call La Jetee a film, in the sense we know the word. That, of course, makes it all the more enchanting.
The story (if you haven't seen 12 Monkeys, a quick synopsis: a guy is sent through time in order to try and prevent the war that effectively ended civilization on Earth) is told, with one stunning exception, in a series of still images, over which there is narration. A story is being told, with accompanying pictures. The film, which clocks in at only twenty-eight minutes, barely draws the outline of this story, leaving the viewer to fill in as many of the blanks as he or she wishes. It's a bold move, and when it doesn't work, it's awful. Here, it works on every level it can.
If it were just that, it would be a good movie. Interesting. A nice idea with a cool experimental sheen to it. But Marker turns the whole structure on its head halfway through the movie with a scene that defines "minimalism," but within the context of what we've seen up to this point in the movie, it comes as a shock, an amazing revelation. I won't tell you what happens (other than to say it's a technical thing, not a plot point), because you should feel that shock for yourself the first time you see this movie. But what makes it great it's that it's not just an experimental quirk for the sake of being an experimental quirk. It takes all the notions you have conceived, consciously or not, about these two societies Marker has given us, and twists them around. I can't say any more about it without distorting the perceptions Marker goes to such pains to create; you just have to see it for yourself. And you should, because this is, quite simply, an amazing piece of work. And, really, if you can spare an hour and a half to watch the latest Adam Sandler vehicle, you can carve out half an hour to watch this, no? **** ½