Chris Marker, who passed away on 29th July 2012, is a profoundly influential figure in cinema history. The French film-maker and theorist has left an enduring legacy that includes his 1962 short film La Jetée.
Despite the stillness there is a kinetic energy that radiates from Chris Markers’ experimental and wholly significant film. Almost completely manufactured from a series of stills, this photomontage is magnificently cinematic. Like a storyboard, the flashes of images force the imagination to bridge the gaps between frames, while raucous sound effects, haunting choral music and eerie narration help create an unnervingly believable interior world. By excluding motion the pure mechanics of cinema – the unison of composition, sound and editing – becomes wonderfully magnified.
Shot on a Pentax Spotmatic camera, the black and white photographs are stitched together creating a vision of a post-apocalyptic, urban dystopia. The aftermath of World War III has left Paris in ruin leaving a community of survivors lost deeply concealed under the rubble and devastation. A prisoner (Davos Hanich) is a lab-rat for a mysterious clan of scientists who are researching time travel in order ‘to call past and future to the rescue of the present’. After probing his mind the man is thrust toward a vision of a woman standing on a jetty at an airport. It is not until the final act that the audience discovers how this quaint scene becomes devastatingly key.
Due to Marker’s supreme inventiveness, La Jetée has been rightly sanctified among cine-literate audiences. A dark but poignant story that contemplates memory and time within the grandiose framework of the science-fiction genre that, despite its fantasticism, also beholds a muted charm that makes it all the more compelling.
An academic of cinema, Marker is credited in inventing a whole filmic language in the form of the essay film. The sci-fi twisted thesis of La Jetée evokes many modes of film-making – it recalls Eisensteinian editing, the gothic futurism of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and is a study of memory akin to Alan Resnais’ Hiroshima, Mon Amour. The film’s great influence is observable in the science-fiction of Jean-Luc Godard’s film noir Alphaville, in the flashback sequences of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror; while its entire concept formed the basis of Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys.
It is no wonder that this inspirational film was, quite fittingly, ranked among Sight & Sound’s 2012 poll of the greatest films of all time.