The Film: La Jetee (1962)
The Principles: Chris Marker (Writer/Director). Jean Négroni. Hélène Chatelain. Davos Hanich. Jacques Ledoux.
The Premise: After World War III leaves France ravaged, a prisoner in residence underneath the Palais de Chaillot is subjected to time-travel experiments, where he’s sent to the past and finds himself face to face with certain images and events that have haunted him since he was a child.
Is It Good: It is- very much so, actually. It’s a slow burn and there were stretches of it that felt rather inaccessible, but that’s completely due to the format. It’s not a film in traditional terms – instead it’s a 28-minute montage of still images edited together with music and a narrative voice-over. It gives the whole thing a sort of literary quality – it’s a photography book brought to life, essentially (and, funnily enough, they – whomever “they” are – actually published a photo book with the images used in this film after the fact) – and you may find that that’s not necessarily the easiest thing to give yourself over to. But it’s worth it, and it’s gorgeous. Shot completely in black and white, some of the photos are stunning and there’s a dreamy sort of ethereal quality to a lot of them when paired with the cool, relaxed, almost hypnotic sound of Négroni’s voice-over work.
It does take a little patience, however, as sometimes the voice can get a bit too relaxed and there are the occasional “too many pictures of the same thing” thing going on, but these are minor quibbles, especially given the fact that it’s not a huge time investment and the story – once you break the curve of the…flowery prose (for lack of a better term) and can get on board with it – is a complete and total mind fuck once you get the entire thing and can put it to some context. Not only is it an extremely tight and demonstrably NON-complicated time-travel story (hey – turns out it IS possible!) but it turns into this really potent (if small) examination of death and fate and destiny and how you can’t escape it. For being such a small movie, it has some big ideas and it carries them around and serves them to the audience almost effortlessly.
Yeah, it’s good.
Is It Worth A Look: Definitely. And there‘s no better time than now as it‘s on Instant, and again, it‘s only 28 minutes long. If THAT‘S not an option then Criterion released a DVD of it (paired with another of Marker’s films – Sans Soleil) and you could always get your hands on that book. Either way, it’s definitely something that anybody reading this site is going to be interested in seeing.
Random Anecdotes: This is the kind of rare, special shit that makes me wanna just dry-hump the bejeezus out of Netflix Instant.
Cinematc Soulmates: 12 Monkeys. The Matrix. Inception. Back to the Future.