Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Cutting Edges: La Jetee (1962) Film Review

Fig 1: Film poster

A unique film told only through still black and white images, Chris Markers “La Jetée” (1962) is an interesting portrayal of a story of time travel, romance and tragedy.

Firstly, the 28 minute film relies on telling its story through sound, narration, still imagery and the transitions to each image. What lacks is the movement and colour. With the narration, it is almost as though you are listening to a novel being read with many pictures as a guide, and it includes interactive sounds and music, which truly provides a unique experience.
  Patrick Samuel describes Marker as a director who: “...He documented history and built a narrative around what he observed and the results were always profound”  (Samuel, 2013).

Fig 2: The Prisoner

The story begins with a prisoner (as seen in Fig 2), who has become so after the events of World War III, being experimented on by scientists to travel through time. The close up face shots of the scientists with eerie glasses that hide their eyes give a very anxiety driven atmosphere, as well as the prisoner being placed on a hammock and showing many facial expressions of pain and major discomfort.
  The prisoners key memory of the past is one where he is a child and witnesses a woman (See Fig 5) at an airport looking out. He then recalls seeing a man die, however the exact memories are vivid.

Fig 3: In the museum

He finally travels back to a time before the war, and meets the woman that occupies his memory and eventually become romantically involved with each other. They visit a museum (Fig 3), and the camera shots here are impressive as they show a diversity of composition of the environment, as well as zoom in on the characters faces to show their joy, just as a moving motion picture would (also with the aid of sound). However, the scientists decide to then send him to the future, where he meets technologically advanced beings who provide him with a type of power unit, that then regenerates his destroyed society. 

Fig 4: The death

Once the prisoner returns to the present day, he realises that he is going to be killed. Suddenly, he is contacted by the people of the future, who wish to welcome him forward to their time, yet he asks to be sent back to the pre-war time period in high hopes of finding the woman again. His wish is granted as he is returned to the airport, but he realises the young version of himself is there too. This doesn’t really bother him, as he wishes to find the woman which he rapidly does, however as he runs towards her, he comes to realise that one of the scientists had actually followed him and he is about to he killed. As he falls, the prisoner has a harsh epiphany that the murder he witnesses was actually his own (Fig 4).

The story is very clever and entertaining, and as Jean-Louis Schefer describes: “This experimental subject is trapped – as in a labyrinth – in the drama of memory whose whole experience consists in making something his own” (Schefer, 1990). Indeed, the prisoner is imprisoned in real life as well as in his own mind, and the tragedy of being killed just before meeting his love again in rather heart-breaker. Again, note how these feelings occur as they would with a live-action film. Schefer also goes to examine how the character is the object of the film: “The fiction of La Jetée is thus a certain kind of work – whose object is the film’s hero – concerning the paradoxes of memory, concerning the inclusion of the past that lives on within the hero as an image, as a secret that the laboratory experiments in the underground camp will try to make him confess”  (Schefer, 1990)

Fig 5: The only moving image

Finally, upon closer inspection there is one singular use of motion in this film; the woman laying in a bed. What’s curious about this as it’s, in a way, exciting to see a glimpse of movement amongst the images frozen in time. It is also somewhat mesmerizing as the viewers attention is captured even more.

A powerful idea crafted 99% in still imagery, and has the same impact as a moving film, really shows the genius within Markers work.

Samuel, P. (2013) Staticmass.net (Accessed on 05/01/2016) http://staticmass.net/world/la-jetee-1962-review/
Schefer, J. (1990) Chrismarker.org (Access on 05/01/2016) http://chrismarker.org/chris-marker-2/jean-louis-schefer-on-la-jete/
Schantz, N. (2015) Sensesofcinema.com (Accessed on 05/01/2016) http://sensesofcinema.com/2015/feature-articles/la-jetee/

Illustration List
Fig 2: "The Prisoner" (Accessed on 05/01/2016) https://allfordeadtime.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/fetch.jpg


  1. Excellent review Manisha :)
    You are introducing your quotes well...just be careful that when you place then, they don't break the continuity of the sentence. Here, for example, you say,

    'Patrick Samuel describes Marker as a director who: “...He documented history and built a narrative around what he observed and the results were always profound” '

    If you were to take out the 'He' at the start of the quote, the sentence would flow much better and still make sense -

    'Patrick Samuel describes Marker as a director who: “...documented history and built a narrative around what he observed and the results were always profound” '

    Good start to the new year :)

    1. Hi, thanks Jackie! And thanks for the pointers :)