Daily Archives: December 7, 2014

La Jetée (1962)


*. It was shot as a photo montage (or photo-roman) because Chris Marker couldn’t even afford film. Now that’s low budget! And as with all successful low or microbudget movies, it succeeds because it knows its limitations. Marker knew what he could do — take great pictures, tell a very simple story, have a terrific score and soundtrack — and didn’t bother trying to do the things he couldn’t.
*. I think pretty much every essay or commentary on this film has to point out that movies are in fact all made out of a series of still photographs. Motion is an illusion created by their rapid passing. But here we truly begin in motion, with a fast pull back down the length of the jetty at Orly, the sound of jet engines filling our ears. It’s another illusion, of a reverse zoom.
*. Addition by subtraction. I think the less explanation and less plot there is in a time travel story the better. It leads to fewer paradoxes.
*. When you think of Marker’s photography you don’t think, at first, of beautiful pictures. But this is part of its excellence. The pictures of the man and woman in pre-war Paris look taken from a fashion magazine, what with their posed naturalness and the general sense of wonder they evoke about “Who are these people?” and “What would they be saying if we could hear them?” A man and a woman: how are they related? We start to imagine things: a relationship, a narrative.
*. The word “nostalgia” comes from the Greek word for a wound. Memories are described here as “scars.” We carry them around with us as painful reminders.
*. Is the man going into the past or just into his memories of the past? “Later on they are in a garden. He remembers there are gardens.” It’s a mental journey then, with only the vaguest explanation given of the point of sending him back in the first place. Perhaps they just need him to remember something they’ve forgotten.
*. I think the whole movie is a dream, taking place in the man’s head. This is the only kind of time travel that makes sense. It also seems significant that the only time we get movement is watching the woman waking up.
*. Does this make what the man sees any less “real”? The narrator insists on the reality of the past he journeys to: real children, real birds, real cats. We think and dream in images, not narrative. Just as Moliere alerted us, we speak in poetry not prose. The man is hooked up with eyepads and that’s it as far as the technology of time travel goes. It’s a non-invasive procedure. He only has to see the past.
*. How do the man and the woman find one another? Is it just fate? Quantum entanglement?
*. The best love stories don’t have to be sad, but they are all strange in some way. I’m not sure why that is. Is it that we think love has something unnatural about it? Or is it because we like to see love being expressed in the most extreme and unlikely environments?
*. What a masterful soundtrack. A beautiful score by Trevor Duncan. Great effects like the high-pitched whine of the jets in the opening merging into the chorus (prefiguring the slide from the modern world into the post-WW3, rather medieval-looking Paris). Or the rising sound of birdsong heralding the woman’s awakening. Then there’s no dialogue, but whispering voices and a minimalist, poetic narration. “Time builds itself painlessly around them.” Like a scar over a wound.
*. I guess the big question we’re left with at the end is what the woman thinks of all this. There’s no explanation even suggested, and she seem strangely disconnected to everything that’s going on. All we get is that sleepy Mona Lisa smile in bed. Is she another time traveller herself? One of those people from the deep future?
*. But then I think that’s one of the points of the movie. We don’t know a thing about other people, being stuck in our own heads (as we are stuck in the man’s head here). People come in and out of our lives as mere images, like figures in fashion magazines. We can build stories around them, project pieces of ourselves onto them, but we can’t hear their voices, never know what they’re thinking. It’s the same theme as Tarkovsky’s Solaris, which makes me wonder why science fiction is so often adopted to make such a point. Isn’t this the drama of our everyday lives? Aren’t we all aliens to one another?