I just re-watched La Jetée by French director Chris Marker and I am still fascinated by the uniqueness of this 29 minutes movie. Marker, along with Peter Watkins (see previous articles 1 & 2), can be said to have invented a new type of Cinema that uses a documentary style in order to create fiction, the film crew being present in those movies as a fictive character.
When he created La Jetée in 1962, he already directed seven movies of this kind, proposing a socialist reading to situations in France, Finland, China, Russia and Cuba (Brazil, US, Vietnam, Chili, Germany, Romania and most of all Japan will follow in the coming thirty years) . However, La Jetée, registers in a slightly different type, just as much unique, which tends more towards “proper” fiction but using only photographic stills to compose his movie. Marker calls this genre “Roman Photo” (Photographic Novel) but really, he is only emphasizing the mean cinema has been always using, the succession of stills which, when articulated all together by the spectator’s mind, creates a comprehensible narrative. When the “normal” cinema uses twenty four of those stills per second, Marker varies rhythms of his photographs that either compose a coherent sequence or on the contrary, follow one space (and one time) to another.
As far as the story is concerned, I don’t want to say too much as some of my readers would have not seen yet amongst who, some would have watched the very good 12 Monkeys by Terry Gilliam that was directly and expressively inspired by La Jetée. If I reveal what the ten first of the movie unfold, this story introduces a man who is sent from a post-apocalyptic Paris’ underground future back to the past thanks to the intense mental image memory he keeps from his childhood of a man dying in front of him on the jetty of Orly’s airport.
This notion of mental image is very important as the stills from the movie can be all interpreted as such. In a more personal way for the spectator, it is extremely interesting to observe how one remembers this film; not by scene like in any other movies, but rather by fragments, and images since their persistence impacts our memory with great insistence.
It is surprising to see that few films has been using this same technique since then (at least to my knowledge) since our memory seems to function the same way, storing mental images that even own the characteristics to be modified with time.
To go further into Chris Marker’s work and his seventy other movies (amongst which, Sans Soleil, Level Five and two homage documentaries about Akira Kurosawa and Andrei Tarkovsky), I recommend the interesting and very chronological book written by Catherine Lupton; Chris Marker: Memories of the Future. London: Reaktion Books, 2005