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An appreciation to La Jetee

This morning I woke up,with my Facebook app in my IPhone,it told about another legend have passed on. It was still recovering from Aurora shooting incident that happened a week ago. My heart sank because I watched one of his films during my film history class. It was La Jette. Today I will talk about my love for that film-La Jette

Chris Marker was a slightly lesser known director of The French New Wave,while Godard and Truffaut are all out with their homages to American Cinema and write essays over their love for cinema in Cahiers Et Cinema. Marker is on the other group called “The Left Bank” where they are a little more experimental in their filmmaking and have a deep love for literature. Notable examples from that group are “Hiroshima Mon Amor” and “Last year at Marienbad.” This film is perhaps the most notable for The Left Bank group.

La Jetee is about a post-nuclear world,where people are randomly chose to time-travel in their memories. A prisoner is struggling with a vague memory which could saved the world. O.K it sounds like something out of Nolan’s Inception (2010) but however I interpret it as a metaphor of isolation and  power-control. The Prisoner was struggling to forget that haunting memory as explained in the prologue,that later developed to his own struggle during his time in the “caves”. As disscused in the essay “Platonic Themes in Chris Marker’s La Jetée” Sander Lee seen this experience of the experiemnt as “namely an obsession with an internal image which is valued more highly than sensations derived from empirical experience.” At times we do feel alone when we struggled with memories that haunted us like the prisoner,who tried his best not to fall back to that memory of seeing a death of a man and that woman’s expression. It feels almost isolated and rather frightening,given that the situation La Jetee shows a power struggle between people for basic resources that they lost that memory of emotion.

What makes La Jetee very unique to FNW (French New Wave) was how they used photographs to convey a story. No it was not like those cheesy vacation slideshows of happy tourists and scenery porn.The exposure of the photos in the beginning are seen as dark to show the darkness of human hearts,but during the flashback scenes of the prisoner and the woman the tonal values are less harsh to show the happy times he encountered. It shows that you do not really need a moving footage to convey an idea. It is hard for us to grasp it as we seen film as a moving object,even a single picture tells words to the subconscious.

It was interesting that Saner Lee draw comparisons of  Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) to La Jetee,both films do talk about obsession and memory itself

It is in this choice that the man resembles Scotty Ferguson (James Stewart), the protagonist of Vertigo, the film which Marker explicitly references in the tree trunk scene. Like the man in La Jetée, Scotty is obsessed by his memory of a mysterious woman who seemed the living embodiment of all his desires and dreams.

In fact La Jetee do have a slight homage to the dream sequence of Vertigo and of course the blinking eye is a wink to the opening scene of Vertigo. I think Marker referred to that film,because he wanted to emphasize the point of how powerful the memory was. While we may tried to forget what the memory is,subconsciously an object or a face may triggered it as it was seen by this quote

 This time he is close to her, he speaks to her. She welcomes him without surprise. They are without memories, without plans. Time builds itself painlessly around them. Their only landmarks are the flavour of the moment they are living and the markings on the walls. 

Perhaps that is why this film is so poignant,it tell us that memory is unreliable. As Jonathan Romney commented about its theme of La Jetee   “La Jetée proposes an avenue that few chose to follow directly, yet the film has been hugely influential. Its visual transformation of the mundane into future dystopia was further pursued by Jean-Luc Godard in Alphaville (1965), and later by Wong Kar-wai in his multiperiod narrative 2046 (2004).”

As I am crazy over how music videos homage to films,you could see that La Jetee’s images inspires many music video directors, most notably David Bowie’s “Jump they Say” with the image of a man being strapped by wires

Interestingly,the song was inspired by a tragic incident of David’s half-brother’s suicide which linked to the prisoner’s memory of witnessing a man’s death.

MVs of Iris-“In Fiction” and  Sigue Sigue Sputnik‘s “Dancerama” also homaged themselves to this film by the photos.

However the most notable homage of La jetee  is Terry Gillian “12 Monkeys” not only homage La Jetee in its opening sequence but also homaged another film that La Jetee draw inspirations from-Vertigo (1958).

I find it difficult to summarize my appreciation for this filmThe themes of this film perhaps stood the test of time as many filmmakers talked about the unreliability of memory and that is why it was treasured. Its techniques are so radical that it surprised me how they managed to talk philosophical themes with images. As Romney opened his essay ” La Jetée: Unchained Melody”- “However you define Chris Marker’s 1963 short La Jetée—philosophical fiction, genre exercise, treatise on cinematic time—one fact is unavoidable: it resembles few other films. In fact, La Jetée does not define itself as a film” Indeed this film is something thought-provoking yet a wonder to this world.

RIP Chris Marker 1921-2012






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