#19 La Jetée (dir: Chris Marker, 1962)
Welcome to Day 2 of the Top Twenty Films Challenge between myself and fellow blogger Laurent de Alberti of FilmLand Empire. To make a short intro even shorter, we’ve each tasked the other with naming their favourite twenty films. We’re starting from 20 and working down. If you missed it yesterday, the inaugural move, then you can read all about it here. I chose F.W. Murnau’s City Girl as my number #20. Today it’s onto #19 with Chris Marker’s science-fiction short, La Jetée.
I am not joking when I declare this 1962 short to be the most influential sci-fi flick of the past fifty years. It is also an incredibly moving account of the fragility of memory and time. Terry Gilliam pinched elements from Marker’s film for 12 Monkeys, but I absolutely recommend you see this because it blows 12 Monkeys right out of the water and in less time. I repeat, this is a short film.
La Jetée is told as a photo-montage with a time traveller going into his own past and returning to his present time (a post-apocalyptic underground Paris) with pieces of technology and fragmented memories. The Man (Davos Hanich) begins a relationship with The Woman (Hélène Chatelain). She calls him ‘her ghost’. He’s haunted by an image of a woman stood on a viewing platform at Orly airport. There is an utterly astounding moment in La Jetée where all of a sudden the image beings to move, a woman looks at us and coyly smiles. I called this, in article I wrote on the film, the ‘Mona Lisa’ shot of cinema. We do not understand the smile therefore it becomes enigmatic and troubling.
Marker’s short – it is twenty-six minutes long – has influenced such films as The Terminator, Inception, Gilliam’s movie, The Time Traveller’s Wife and others with its surprisingly low-tech approach to time travel. The future is ruined and ruled by scientists who take prisoners and conduct sinister experiments. The Man is one of the few who can endure the arduous task of going into the past. An obsessive memory provides the man with strength.
You can watch the whole twenty-six minutes long masterpiece that is La Jetée below. It is quite possibly one of the best twenty-six minutes you’ll ever spend alive. Marker’s film is something to be experienced and then studied (if you’ve got the time and of that persuasion). That La Jetée was made by a filmmaker with little interest in narrative fiction cinema seems all the more remarkable. The film discusses the past, the present (it was made during the nightmarish days of the Cuban Missle Crisis) and the potential disaster awaiting us in the future. The fragmentary back and forth style is allusive and intriguing.
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