25 October 2007

Short Film: La Jetée (1962)

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Written & Directed by: Chris Marker

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Grade: A

La Jetée (The Pier, or Jetty), in its brief 27 minute running time, plays like a French New Wave episode of The Twilight Zone, though it's singularly unlike anything you'd ever see on television, or even in a movie theater for that matter. La Jetée, best known to today's kids as that movie that tends to pop-up in the first paragraph or two of 12 Monkeys reviews, is a film about memory, told entirely in still photographs, emphasizing the static and piecemeal character of memory, accompanied by voice-over narration—"un photo roman," (a "photo novel") Marker calls it. (Though at 27 minutes it's more like un photo romanette!)

"This is the story of a man haunted by an image from his own childhood," the narrator tells us, the image of a man dying at an airport (sur la jetée éponyme) right before our protagonist's juvenescent eyes. Set in a post-WWIII future, where the Arc de Triomphe has been de-arched, Davos Hanich is sent back in time by his fellow underground-dwelling refugees to find food and energy, or so he's told, since the outside world is a death trap of nuclear fallout and supplies are running low. Instead, he winds up running around with a woman he recognizes from that fateful airport memory. Together, they visit a number of monuments to time: a dissected tree trunk (right out of Vertigo, an objet d'obsession for Marker) and a natural history museum/taxidermist's showcase. As the narrator suggests, it's like a tour through "the museum of his memory".

Ingeniously crafted as both complex in its execution and universal in its pathos, La Jetée is a short, stinging and haunting parable about the destructive nature of the past as idée fixe; Hanich's pleas to remain in the halcyon pre-war era of his younger days ultimately leads to his undoing, captured in an iconic image of an outstretched arm against a tall and strange metal tower. Running away from the present and future, he discovers the hard way that "there was no way out of time." It's a sad lesson for the nostalgic in all of us.

1 comment:

Clayton L. White said...

Has to be one of my five favorite films ever. What I love about it is that it is pure homage to Vertigo yet it becomes a great work of art on its own. Marker is a genius, pure and simple. And you , my friend, have done the film justice with this review.