Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Cutting Edge: La Jetée

The first time viewing Chris Marker's French science fiction short 'La Jetée' (1962) is a truly unique experience. With how technology has impacted current cinema, not only is it strange to watch a film in black and white, but see one consisting only of still images (in black and white) is almost otherworldly. However, this does not negatively impact the 30 minute photomontage in the slightest. Alternatively, it gives the film an almost nostalgic feel to it, the narrator's voice over the still images makes the film feel as though it's a bedtime story being told by ones father or grandfather.

Fig. 1 'La Jetée' (1962)

The still black and white images paired with the haunting music and narration causes the viewers to quickly attach to the characters and become part of this surreal world, "...it's an astounding example of what you can do as a filmmaker once you have a great story...The impact is far stronger compared to other films that have everything but such a powerful idea behind it," (Samuel, 2013). Despite the use of only still images Chris Marker doesn't allow the film to appear choppy or  jumpy in any way, instead he waltzes us from one photo to another. Each image is smoothly transitioned to the next, sometimes only minute changes appear such as eyes opening or closing or the turn of a head. These transitions make the film feel like a dream, which is perhaps how the main character would feel like while traveling through time.

The story itself, although obviously a sci-fi, has an unusual romantic twist to it. Even in such a strange situation, the protagonist and the woman he seeks seem to be bound by an invisible bond that is unexplainable yet imperishable. The images Chris Marker uses for the sequences focusing on the protagonist's relationship with the woman are both sorrowful and intimate. Their love seems so pure and innocent in the ill-fated world that surrounds them. The score accompanying the images adds to this effect, "La Jetée's lead actors are beautifully doomed, as is Trevor Duncan's score; and the resonant measured narration (from Jean Negroni) is poetic and fluorescent, infused with awe and mystery..." (Sellars, 2005). Everything feels calm and peaceful yet uneasy and confusing as it's not clear if it's real, just a dream or some sort of alternate reality.

Despite this appealing love story, there is a much more sinister and selfish motive behind the scientists sending the man back to his past. After the scientists conclude that the protagonist can handle a trip to the future instead of the past, they send him to ask for power and resources. The individuals that greet him in the future send him back with a source power so people in the present can start rebuilding. They also offer to take the protagonist into the future for good to escape the execution that awaits him as he has completed his task and has no further use. However, the man requests to be sent to his past to be with the woman he loves. It is here we discover that time is ultimately an unbreakable loop.

When he returns to his past, he is shot dead in front of the woman and a crowd of people including a child who is actually the protagonist himself as a kid. This ending leads to a multitude of deep questions such as can we really change time or is it written for us already, can time really be changed or is it a loop. Regarding the story, this moment is heartbreaking for the viewer. Not only did the protagonist finally become free to spend his life with the woman, but it's now recognizable how futile his efforts to be with her were from the start, "...it is one of the most tender and true portrayals of love that I have ever come across...love is a cocoon against tyranny, but it is too fragile to survive. In the end, darkness wins." (Pilger, 2014).

Fig. 3 Protagonist Being Shot

La Jetée is without a doubt a piece of art, it presents multiple philosophical ideas/questions, it throws the viewer into an engaging science fiction/love story, exhibits beautiful black and white photography, a delicate score, and a strong narration. These elements were expertly pieced together to create a one-of-a-kind science fiction film that has inspired multiple other films including Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys' (1995). It is difficult to think of another film that presented imagery and art in a way such as La Jetée, let alone one that did so successfully. It is a shame that films today tend to not adopt such experimental and abstract methods, it is often forgotten that filmmaking is also a form of art.

Pilger, Z. (2014) Chris Marker: Mystic Film-Maker With a Midas Touch At: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/chris-marker-mystic-film-maker-with-a-midas-touch-9273471.html Accessed on: 5/1/2016
Samuel, P. (2013) La Jetée At: http://staticmass.net/world/la-jetee-1962-review/ Access on: 5/1/2016
Sellars, S. (2005) Retrospecto: La Jetée At: http://www.ballardian.com/la-jetee Accessed on: 5/1/2016

Illustration List:
Figure 1. La Jetée [Poster] At: http://st.kp.yandex.net/images/film_big/160900.jpg Accessed on: 5/1/2016
Figure 2. The Woman [Film Still] At: http://bloodmountain.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/la-jetee-242279l.jpg Accessed on: 5/1/2016
Figure 3. Protagonist Being Shot [Film Still] At: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-iw9GzcmzJxE/UCKL6ZuqcUI/AAAAAAAAF_s/8vXKVmru3Rw/s1600/jetty4.png Accessed on: 5/1/2016


  1. Wow! Great review, Dee, so much so I want to watch the film again. I really enjoyed reading this, as your enjoyment of the film shines out of your review.

    1. Thank you! I might watch it again myself in my spare time.

  2. Spare time? ;)

    Great review Dee! I hope you enjoy the rest of this terms films as much :)