One of the great personal values for me about these World Cinema showings is that they often force me to actually watch movies I’ve been putting off for years—and for years I’ve been passively avoiding Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962). Why? Mostly, I think, because it’s been shoved at me as a “must see” by people a lot keener on Terry Gilliam’s expansion of it, Twelve Monkeys (1995), than I am. Now I’ve seen it—and if this oddity falls a little short of its legendary status, it doesn’t do so by much. And yes, at least as a weirdly influential cinematic dead end, it actually is a “must see.”
For those completely unfamiliar with La Jetée, it’s a 28-minute film that tells its story via a narration and a series of still photographs. That likely sounds a lot less interesting than it is. In its own way, it’s like looking at photos from a movie that doesn’t exist—and that’s strangely apt in this case. What better way to tell a story that in itself may not exist, but which is perhaps built on a memory of something that didn’t happen in the way the protagonist thought. Now, if all that sounds esoteric and vague, we’re talking about a movie that is esoteric and vague. It’s also one that could conceivably be spoiled by saying too much—and one that ought to be left to personal interpretation. This is the kind of movie that you discuss over coffee after seeing. Go to it knowing the approach and that it’s a post-WWIII tale, and let the rest just happen.
La Jetée is being shown with Marker’s 1983 documentary/travelogue Sans Soleil—a work that is, if anything, even less traditional than La Jetée, and probably less penetrable. The two films make for a very unusual evening at the movies, to say the least.