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Audio and visual images which need intense concentration,
This review is from: La Jetée (1962) / Sans Soleil (1983) [DVD]  (DVD)
This DVD contains two of Chris Marker's works which contrast yet complement. Marker began as a photographer and writer in the 1950's, later moving into a cinematography which was highly idiosyncratic and highly influential.
"La Jetée" is in large part autobiographical, while exploring time travel and the reduction of life to frozen moments of time. It would be the basis for Terry Gilliam's "Twelve Monkeys". In a post-apocalyptic Paris, the survivors are driven underground where they experiment with time travel in order to save themselves. Told in a voice-over as you watch black and white stills flash before your eyes, the tale is at once riveting and disturbing. Your concentration shifts between audio and visual narrative, so it may be a film you need to watch two or three times to really experience it.
The film views like an animated tour through a picture gallery ... or a graphic novel. Only, you move at Marker's pace - you cannot dictate your own, you cannot stop to admire, you are driven relentlessly on. "La Jetée" alludes to Hitchcock's "Vertigo" - it makes reference to the tree rings scene - time here appearing as both circular and bounded, as a line to follow or a line to step across. You are forced to follow the rhythm and line of the moving film by stepping from still image to still image.
"Sans Soleil" continues the theme of time travel, again alluding to "Vertigo", with its concept of video postcards and letters being sent by some fictional traveller. Here Marker interweaves his own moving and still images with those of others. Again, Marker is combining a visual and an audio narrative, but this time with greater complexity and dynamism. It can be an exhausting watch/listen as you try to follow the momentum of sound and vision. Again, it's a film you have to go back to and watch again and again.
Marker presents some astonishing images of conflict and ritual, emphasising that not remembering is not the same as forgetting. Images get imprinted on your brain. Many you may not remember. Some you will forget. But the forgotten can be re-awoken.
He delivers graphic images of resistance and political struggle - including synthesised footage of the police/student confrontations in Japan in the 1960's. He flits from Japan to Iceland, to guerrilla struggles in Guinea-Bissau, to the hideous vision of a giraffe being shot, its death struggle played out in full, dying colour. He looks at ritual and superstition, at a temple for cats which is populated by regiments of porcelain feline caricatures.
Marker's is a commentary on youth as well as on politics, on how we acquire identity and how society enforces it, on how we perceive knowledge - does our society condemn us to predestined knowledge and understanding, or can we have freewill to discover what we know and learn for ourselves rather than be taught? We are not able to create our own language - we are indoctrinated into the one prevalent in our society - so how can we claim that our thoughts, our visions, our values are our own and not something constructed for us by society?
Marker demonstrates that the camera can look at the world in a way in which the human eye cannot. He produces pictures of the extraordinary and the mundane. But, again, he controls the pace. You are driven relentlessly along - maybe forgetting some of what has been shown, maybe simply not remembering because you were concentrating on the dialogue?
Marker echoes the pace of modern life and its depersonalisation - you see exactly the same images as everyone else watching this film, yet which ones will impress you? What will these images mean, to you? Memory is your own opportunity to reconstruct the pace of time and to juxtapose image against emotion and the unique of your inner world.
These two films demand intense concentration. They are hardly a relaxed watch. But Marker poses questions highly relevant to anyone with an interest in the modern world and human consciousness, never mind anyone interested in making or taking films. The DVD offers some entertaining and informative extras which enhance you enjoyment of the main features, and the two works complement one another neatly. A demanding but highly rewarding coupling.