Sunday 9 September 2007

La Jetée (1962) Chris Marker

I've seen La Jetée before, though it's the only one of Chris Marker's films that I have seen. Apparently he's known for his unorthodox filmmaking, this being no exception. It's told entirely in black and white still photographs, many without any accompaniment except a choral soundtrack. What's left is either entirely silent or backed by an explanatory narration. It's a fascinating film, impossible not to watch, even when we know what happens.

The film begins and ends at Orly, just before the war, at a particular pier (la jetée) where the incident the man almost remembers took place. In between is a story that would be familiar to anyone who's seen Terry Gilliam's wonderful film, Twelve Monkeys. The story tells of a post apocalyptic future, where Paris (and everything else) has been destroyed during World War III.

Survivors living in catacombs below the city are aware that they need help and that without it the human race is doomed. The surface is a radioactive ruin, completely off limits, so the only option left is to seek help through time rather than space. They begin experimenting on human subjects and eventually find the man who may just be able to do it. He has a strong memory from before the war, though he doesn't know what it means, and it may be the focus the experimenters need to succeed in getting their message through. Of course, not everything is as it seems.

There are links between three films here. Chris Marker, a French filmmaker, even though the name wouldn't suggest it, made La Jetée in 1962 after being inspired by a scene in Hitchcock's Vertigo, the one with the tree of rings. Gilliam was inspired by this film, but aware of Marker's own inspiration, wove Vertigo references into his own film also. All three films stand alone, but watching all three, especially this one and Twelve Monkeys together is a great insight into the power of influence. Very powerful filmmaking and astounding for its time.


jervaise brooke hamster said...

Hal, how about a reveiw of the 1951 short starring Orson Welles "Return To Glenascaul", it really is a haunting little cult oddity. By the way, see if you can find a copy with the Peter Bogdanovich introduction.

Hal C. F. Astell said...

I haven't seen Return to Glennascaul, which looks rather interesting. I'll see if I can track it down.

I do have a stack of early shorts from notable directors that I really should get round to reviewing (some are on my old site but I'll do them afresh): Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, Lars von Trier, Matthieu Kassovitz... never enough time though.