Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Film Review: La Jetée (1962)

Fig. 1: La Jetée Poster.
La Jetée (1962) is a French sci-fi film directed and written by Chris Marker. The film uses a series of still images to tell the story of a man who is sent back and forth through time in order to find a solution to the decreasing amount food, medicine and energy available. The film is set in post World War III Paris, where people now live underground due to life on the surface having been destroyed by nuclear radiation. The man is experiences life before World War III as well as life in the distant future, in order to find a way to fix the current state of the world. "Despite being grounded in fiction, the film is more a reflection on time, space, memory and subjectivity than it is a conventional narrative." (Huston, 2012)

Fig. 2: The woman from the man's memory.
The man whose story the film follows, is chosen to undergo the time travel experiments because of a vivid memory he has from when he was a child. In the memory, he is standing on an outdoor viewing pier at an airport, he recalls seeing a woman's face (fig. 2) and witnessing a man's death. It is because of this memory, that the scientists believe he will be able to mentally withstand the experiment, something previous subjects failed to do. "...it’s the story of a man marked by an image from his childhood." (Samuel 2013).

La jetéeChris Marker. 1962AirportParís-Orly, 94390 Orly, FranceSee in mapSee in imdb
Fig. 3: The man dies.
The film uses sounds and the speed at which the images change to create atmosphere. During the scenes where the man is being experimented on, there is the sound of constant thudding, which sounds similar to a heartbeat or marching footsteps. This thudding becomes louder and quicker before dying down, at the same time, the audience is shown more images in quick succession. When the images are shown quickly, the transition between each image becomes more fluid, to the point where it almost looks like a moving image, in a similar way to how an animator would add more frames to an animation to make the animation flow better. This is shown during a scene where the woman is waking up, and at the end of the film, where the man dies (fig. 3). 

Fig. 4: The woman in bed.
There is only one small part of the film that contains a moving image; a scene that shows the woman waking up in bed (fig. 4). She opens her eyes, blinks and smiles at the camera, then the film goes straight back to still images. This small part seems odd, almost like it's moving too fast after only seeing a sequence of pictures. "Not only does this scene stick out because it contrasts with the rest of the movie, depicted in stills—it sticks out because of what The Woman does with her five seconds of kinetic freedom. In that brief release from the staccato images that precede it, The Woman blinks." (Hough, 2015). By this point in the film, the audience may barely notice they are watching what some may describe as a slide show, as the use of sound and interesting narrative seems to add movement; it is easy for the audience to fill in the gaps between images. Marker shows that you don't need to see characters walk from one place to another to know how they got there, or hear the spoken dialogue of one character to know what it was that made another character smile, if you give an audience a sequence of images, imagination will fill the gaps. 

Fig. 5: An assassin sent to kill the man.
La Jetée has a rather chilling story, made more disturbing by the narrator's monotonous voice. The narrator tells the story as though it were a documentary, there is no feeling, no suggestion of the narrator having any opinion on the story he is telling. The man has fulfilled his purpose, and the narrator has no more to say on the matter, the story is over. However, it is claimed in the film that the man must be executed now that he has finished his task, but he has not truly finished it until he dies, for in order for his younger self to retain the vivid memory of the woman on the jetty, he must die there, his future self becoming part of his own memory. But, the fact that the scientists already had someone in place to kill the man, suggests that their choosing of him as a subject may have been planned for some time.

Marker has only chosen the most important images in this film to show mood and atmosphere. It imitates a storyboard; showing exactly what's happening in as few images as possible, with the exclusion of some scenes which are drawn out with several images showing the same thing, sometimes with images repeated. Had the film been made any other way, it would not have had the same impact. The simplicity of it stands out, especially today, when we are so used to films using action packed scenes and realistic special effects to keep us intrigued. La Jetée requires the same attention to detail from its audience as it did its director. 

Figure 1. La Jetée Poster. (1962) [poster] At: http://www.quixote.com/lajeteeposter/ (Accessed on: 05. 01. 16)

Figure 2. The woman from the man's memory. (1962) From: La Jetée. Directed by: Chris Marker [Film still] France: Argos Films. At: https://www.studyblue.com/notes/note/n/20th-and-21st-cen-art/deck/2910760 (Accessed on: 05. 01. 16)

Figure 3. The man dies. (1962) From: La Jetée. Directed by: Chris Marker [Film still] France: Argos Films. At: http://filmap.tumblr.com/post/121176899984/la-jet%C3%A9e-chris-marker-1962-airport-par%C3%ADs-orly (Accessed on: 05. 01. 16)

Figure 4. The woman in bed. (1962) From: La Jetée. Directed by: Chris Marker [Film still] France: Argos Films. At: http://moviefail.com/freedom-of-movement-la-jetee/ (Accessed on: 05. 01. 16)

Figure 5. An assassin sent to kill the man. (1962) From: La Jetée. Directed by: Chris Marker [Film still] France: Argos Films. At: http://oddballfilms.blogspot.co.uk/2013_01_01_archive.html (Accessed on: 05. 01. 16)

Huston, S. (2012) 'Revisiting and Rethinking Two Classic Essay Films
'La Jetée' and 'Sans Soleil'' In: PopMatters 29. 03. 2012 [online] At: http://www.popmatters.com/review/156186-la-jeteesans-soleil-the-criterion-collection-blu-ray-edition/ (Accessed on: 05. 01. 16)

Samuel, P. (2013) 'La Jetée' In: staticmass.net 01. 03. 2013 [online] At: http://staticmass.net/world/la-jetee-1962-review/ (Accessed on: 05. 01. 16)

Hough, S. (2015) 'The Freedom of Movement in Chris Marker’s La Jetée' In: moviefail.com 26. 08. 2015 [online] At: http://moviefail.com/freedom-of-movement-la-jetee/ (Accessed on: 05. 01. 16)


  1. Great review Eleanor :) Excellent discussion around the use of the stills as a 'storyboard'...