La Jetée

Austin Chronicle

DIRECTED BY: Chris Marker

REVIEWED: 04-12-99

A young boy is taken for a Sunday visit to watch the planes take off from a jetty at the Paris Airport. He sees a man die. He never forgets it. Years later, after a devastating world war, the scientists of the future, using this anchoring memory, try to send him out in time. They succeed, sending him first to the past and then the future to seek help for the desolate present. Shot by one of the French New Wave's most eccentric talents (think of the implications of that), Chris Marker, La Jetée is a 30-minute black-and-white short that is easily one of the most influential science fiction films of the last 50 years. A cited source for 12 Monkeys, the short is also a clear influence on the Terminator films. La Jetée, rather than boasting elaborate special effects, is a story told entirely with stills and narration (there are only a few seconds of motion in the whole film and they are startlingly effective). The mysterious Marker, known both for his reluctance to give interviews and, if he did, to alter considerably the facts of his life, began as a journalist before turning to film. Marker is mostly known for personal documentaries such as Lettre de Sibérie (Letter From Siberia, 1958), ¡Cuba Sí! (1961), and Le Joli Mai (1963). Working in a variety of styles, Marker is a very political filmmaker, the driving force behind Loin du Viètnam (1967), an anti-war film on which Alain Resnais, Agnès Varda, Claude Lelouch, Jean-Luc Godard, William Klein, and Joris Ivens collaborated. Some regard Marker as an inspired cinema essayist, others as a didactic bore. La Jetée is really his only fiction film. The story goes that they originally shot this as a live action film but thought it didn't work. Marker sat down and by using static photographs created this lovely film. I first saw it in 1967 as the last of a collection of shorts at a New York City museum. The lulling narration accompanied by the narrative procession of stills was hypnotizing. The story packed the biggest punch, the ending a real kicker. Thirty years later, having its narrative so imitated, I doubt this black-and-white short (and most videos I've rented are unfortunately muddy) can muster the same magic, but it just might.

--Louis Black

Other Films by Chris Marker
Level Five

Film Vault Suggested Links
Twelve Monkeys
Babylon 5 (tv)
The Day the Earth Stood Still

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