Release date: February 16th, 1962
Running time: 28 minutes
Country of origin: France
Original language: French with English subtitles and dubbing
Writer and director: Chris Marker
Composer: Trevor Duncan
Narrator: Jean Négroni
Cast: Helene Chatelain, Jacques Ledoux, Davos Hanich
Chris Marker was always the type of filmmaker whose work fell into the category of thoughtful and challenging, and by nature he was a much gifted storyteller. He documented history and built a narrative around what he observed and the results were always profound, so much so that his ideas continue to influence filmmakers today.
His 1962 short film, La Jetée, was no different. Told with still images shot in black and white, and featuring narration by Jean Négroni, it’s the story of a man marked by an image from his childhood.
Set in the aftermath of World War III in the bombed out city of Paris, we meet survivors who are kept underground in the Palais de Chaillot galleries. This is where experiments in time travel are taking place. It’s also where we meet an un-named man – a prisoner – he’s the only one who can withstand the effects of the experiments. He’s desperate to solve the puzzle of the image that haunts him; when he witnessed the death of a man, and the woman who watched it with him. Her face remains burned in his memory.
The scientists hope that by calling on the past and the future, they can rescue the present. After many attempts, they succeed in placing him in pre-war times where he meets this mysterious woman. As he continues to visit her and learn more about what life was like before the war, they inevitably become drawn to each other, but in his present time when he learns he’s about to be executed, he has the choice to escape to the far future or the past.
His choices will complete the circle of events he first witnessed as a child. If time is real, as many believe it is, then once an event has occurred, it will always occur and can never be undone or escaped.
Like fellow filmmaker Alain Resnais who documented the horrors of the Holocaust and the bombing of Hiroshima, Marker too was afflicted by the machinery of war in the 20th century. La Jetée tells of the destruction of mankind’s soul in a story that’s bleak and barren in the landscape it portrays, but it’s filled with so much humanity and understanding of the effect of our actions on the environment and life for others. I couldn’t help but be moved by it and amazed by the power of its story.
It’s an astounding example of what you can do as a filmmaker once you have a great story. Without special effects, the visuals are entirely crafted out of still images. The impact is far stronger compared to other films that have everything but such a powerful idea behind it.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .