La Jetée & Sans Soleil, Blu-ray (1963/1983/2012)

by | Mar 8, 2012 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

La Jetée & Sans Soleil, Blu-ray (1963/1983/2012)
Two films directed by Chris Marker
Studio: Janus Films/The Criterion Collection 387 [2/7/12]
Video: 1.66:1 for 16:9 1080p HD B&W & color
Audio: PCM mono, French or English
Subtitles: English with French audio
Extras: Two interviews with filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin, “Chris on Chris” video piece on Marker, Two excerpts from French TV series Court-circuit—a clip from David Bowie’s music video inspired by La Jetéee and an analysis of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Junkopia – a six-minute film by Marker and others about the Emeryville (SF Bay Area) mudflats; plus printed illustrated booklet with an interview with Marker, an essay by Marker scholar Catherine Lupton, Marker’s notes on filmmaking etc.
Length: 130 minutes total (La Jetée is 25 min.)
Rating: *****

These two quite different films are the most popular from a long career in the arts by filmmaker, poet, novelist, photographer, editor, videographer and digital multimedia artist Chris Marker. They were both shot in 16mm and the short La Jetée is entirely black & white stills, with only a few seconds in the middle (a girl opening her eyes in the morning) shot as moving images. However, the expert restoration by Criterion produces very acceptable screen images on both films, with a touch of graininess. Another interesting tech fact about both is that Marker had only a silent 16mm camera, and there is no sync sound whatever—a narrator is heard on the soundtracks.  (I also was without sync sound when I shot 16mm and Super 8 films; wish I’d been half as creative  in working around this problem as Marker.) The male narrator for Le Jetée and the female reader for Sans Soleil do both French and English tracks, which differ from one another in many ways.

La Jetée was an extremely influential sci-fi film, which inspired not only the David Bowie music video Jump They Say, but also Terry Gilliam’s sci-fi epic 12 Monkeys, starring Bruce Willis.  The black & white stills were shot by Marker with his Pentax 35mm camera on a day he had off from another film he was working on. The story concerns a post-apocalyptic world destroyed by nuclear war, in which survivors must live underground. Those in charge (who we hear whispering in German, very creepy) are trying to send one of their prisoners back in time to before the war to obtain medical supplies and help for those struggling in the future. They are using a primitive sort of time travel device, and finally find a man who has a strong obsession with an image of a girl he saw as a child on a jetty at Orly Airport. This enables him to go back to that time, on and off, and have a relationship with the girl. The framing and composition of the stills is very creative and one soon forgets the lack of moving images. This is probably the most successful non-moving movie ever made.
Sans Soleil (Without Sun) is a sort of creative, philosophical travel film that is totally different from any travelogue you have ever seen. The woman’s voice on the soundtrack reads supposed letters from a world-traveling friend, but they are actually the ideas of Marker himself. Thru these images of people and objects in Japan and Africa, Marker continues to deal with investigations of time and memory that are not that different from his themes in La Jetée.
He makes no excuse for including some images of his two favorite animals: cats and owls. Some of the oddities of life in Tokyo are shown, including the cat cemetery, the endless displays in the shopping malls, and the “Baby Martians” – young people who do a strange synchronized dance together in a square in Tokyo every week. He has shots taken in Guinea-Bissau and the Cape Verde Islands, along with some background on the soundtrack about the revolutionary events there. He also visits San Francisco to see all the remaining spots that appeared in Hitchcock’s Vertigo, along with a few stills from the original film. Towards the end he shows many images from his film manipulated electronically for abstract designs by a Japanese friend who is obsessed with video work. There are two dozen chapters to the film. Sans Soleil gives a fascinating insight into the thinking of Chris Marker, using in effective ways the simplest of low-budget techniques.
—John Sunier

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