”La Jetée” (1962) is a very unusual project. It is…
…a photo novel – a science fiction short film made almost entirely in still photographs. 29 minutes of brain-penetrating painful stills.
…a dystopian science fiction movie made by Chris Marker, a French director whose career spanned for 5 decades and his most notable work were documentary essays, not feature films – let alone science fiction. Yet ”La Jetée” was interconnected with his later works in terms of the spirit.
…incredibly long-lived for a film with such an unusual form – no action, no stars and no actual video – that directly inspired one of the best Terry Gilliam’s films ”12 Monkeys”. Yes, the time when Hollywood still had the guts of making these kind of weird ‘remakes’.
…a grim philosophical story about human perception of things and memory, madness, love, time interchangeability and bleakness.
”The victors stood guard over an empire of rats.”
What I liked. ”La Jetée” is a very concise, minimally expressive and finished work. The photography is excellent (Marker comes from a photography and journalism background), creating some images that will eat into your perception. The concept and story are original. It is a dark fantasy about our memory, perception and senses. How it is impossible to escape the time, literally and figuratively. The whole story is followed by a narrator’s cold voice.
What I didn’t like. With all my love for original projects at times I felt that the concept and the form at times prevail over the story and the characters. ”La Jetée” sags in the middle part, where love story’s photographs become a little repetitive and Héléne Chatelain (it was her only role ever, by the way, later she turned to directing) was not totally convincing. Whatever. ”La Jetée” has already reached a cult status and is considered to be a masterpiece among philosophers, intellectuals (to whom I obviously don’t belong) and is demonstrated in film schools. It deserves it.
The plot. I’d rather just share a few quotes from the script.
”And sometime after came the destruction of Paris.
Many died. Some believed themselves to be victors. Others were taken prisoner. The survivors settled beneath Chaillot, in an underground network of galleries.
Above ground, Paris, as most of the world, was uninhabitable, riddled with radioactivity.
The victors stood guard over an empire of rats.
The prisoners were subjected to experiments, apparently of great concern to those who conducted them.
The outcome was a disappointment for some – death for others – and for others yet, madness.
One day they came to select a new guinea pig from among the prisoners.
He was the man whose story we are telling.
He was frightened. He had heard about the Head Experimenter. He was prepared to meet Dr. Frankenstein, or the Mad Scientist. Instead, he met a reasonable man who explained calmly that the human race was doomed. Space was off-limits. The only hope for survival lay in Time. A loophole in Time, and then maybe it would be possible to reach food, medicine, sources of energy.”
Worth watching? Yes. Because…
”…nothing distinguishes memories from ordinary moments. Only later do they become memorable by the scars they leave.”
P. S. Apart from the obvious plot resemblances with ”12 Monkeys”, there were some curious visual similarities of some characters too.