Recommended Viewing Situation:
Wearing a long overcoat made of tinfoil, smoking a cigarette and drinking a glass of bootleg wine.
Running Time: 28 minutes.
Format: A mix of stills from a Pentax Spotmatic and motion pictures from a 35mm Arriflex.
Director: Chris Marker.
Writer: Chris Marker.
Cinematography: Chris Marker.
Awards: Prix Jean Vigo in the Short Film category (1963).
It might be short, but La Jetée (The Jetty, 1962) is one of the most mind-bending and emotive films to come out of the French New Wave (in this writer’s opinion). Written and shot/filmed by Chris Marker himself, the experimental film creates a narrative predominately using still photos and an eerily forlorn voice-over (Jean Négroni). Its ambiguous plot follows The Man (Davos Hanich) and his existence in a post-apocalyptic Paris amidst the aftermath of World War III. The Man now lives in a commune underground and is selected by some rather threatening looking scientist types for a time travelling experiment into the past to gather resources for the war-torn present. He is considered the perfect candidate because he is ‘marked by a [traumatic] image from his childhood’.
It is typically new wave in its thematic and visual approach. It examines existentialist ideas of life’s unwavering resolution in death, the fragility of humanity (and memory), and our ability to love knowing we have a fractured idea of our past life events and can do nothing but exist. Heavy stuff. Not only is this echoed by Marker’s distraught landscape, unable to breach the surface the film’s inhabitants must live beneath it, knowing it in memory alone, but by the lifeless unmoving artifice of the photographs utilised throughout. Historically, this piece offers an awareness and consideration of how we frame (like the camera) our lives in a modern age; one that faces down a world that has nearly destroyed itself twice before and threatens to again in the wake of the Cold War.
What is wholly beautiful about this film is that these pictures are in fact far from lifeless. Seeing both Hanich and his love interest, The Woman (Hélène Chatelain) in the museum scene will demonstrate this without contest and further put forward the anxieties of what it means to capture something from the past. It is at once a gentle film that depicts Parisian reverie and a twisted sci-fi epic that boasts post-structural ideas of time as a construct of ones own mind. Arguably, perhaps Marker disagrees with the efficacy of this thinking when considering the film as a whole. If this is sounding familiar at any point, it’s because it was an inspiration for Terry Gilliam’s sci-fi film 12 Monkeys (1995). Be sure to look out for Marker’s long wooden homage (or ‘quote’) to Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). This film is a Derrida-esque narrative of apprehension and trauma, ‘la petite mort’ if you will.