Jetée, La (1962)

Marker’s legendary work, comprised of a montage of still photographs with narration, is not just one of cinema’s most famous shorts, but a thought-provoking look at the impossibility of escaping the claws of time.   

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Review #2,578

Dir. Chris Marker
1962 | France | Sci-Fi/Experimental | 27 min | 1.66:1 | French
PG (passed clean)

Cast: Jean Negroni, Helene Chatelain, Davos Hanich
Plot: Post-World War III, Paris lies in ruins. A scientist researching time travel hopes to send subjects to various time periods and finds a suitable subject in a prisoner with a vivid pre-war childhood memory.
Source: Argos Films

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Time Travel; Memory; Dystopia
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex/Experimental
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Niche Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

La jetée (or ‘The Pier’) is about possibilities and impossibilities, economically told in less than half an hour, and with the most unsophisticated yet radical of methods—narration over a montage of still photographs. 

Despite being a short film, Chris Marker’s work is far from being a mere footnote in the history of cinema; it is the short film par excellence that changed how we thought about the medium, as transformative in cultural impact as, say, Bunuel and Dali’s surrealist Un chien andalou (1929). 

I first heard of La jetée not by association with the French New Wave, which Marker was part of, but through 12 Monkeys (1995), which Terry Gilliam had loosely adapted from. 

“Nothing distinguishes memories from ordinary moments. Only later do they become memorable by the scars they leave.”

A boy witnesses a tragic incident that would haunt him throughout his life. Later WWIII erupts, sending Paris into an apocalyptic future.  In his adult life, he becomes a key subject of a time travel experiment to make contact with both the past and the future in order to salvage the present. 

Marker, like his Left Bank compatriot Alain Resnais, has always been fascinated by time.  In La jetée, the impossibility of escaping the claws of time becomes its undergirding theme, setting up an epilogue that will surely send goosebumps. 

Man is forever burdened by time, but Marker’s still photographs somehow free him from that burden; after all, what can we do to control time except freeze it?

Grade: A



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