La Jetee (from French – “Jetty”) is a featurette by a French director Chris Marker. This is the only story film by the famous documentary maker who decided not to stand back from the genre of science fiction that was gaining popularity overnight in early 1960s. However, the film’s specialties do not come down to its creation as long as both its form and content are noteworthy. Overall, La Jetee can be called a unique phenomenon in film making.
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The movie consists almost completely of still black and white photos with a narration attached, which actually makes it look like a documentary. Nevertheless, the story it tells is a fictive one about a post-apocalyptic world and time travel. Both motifs are typical of science fiction but still intriguing since the scenario differs from author to author. Furthermore, those motifs are no more than tools the director uses to address the audience presupposed to involve deep thinkers. It is, however, hardly possible to claim what exactly La Jetee teaches its viewers because of its superlative metaphoricalness and general complexity.
To the contrary, the movie is not originally meant to be straightforward as the director leaves analyzing and concluding to the spectator. Marker does not claim anything or give any arguments, his only mission lies in employing evidence which can be interpreted in various ways depending on who perceives it. The need for an individual approach is obvious from a combination of a utopia and a dystopia in the story. In one respect, the contemporary world is dystopian, but there is a hope for potential renovation which proves to be possible. Along with that, the hope confronts the threat, which does not allow the entire story to be utopian. Which of the two dominates, depends on the lens the viewer looks through.
It is worth noting that, unlike the vast majority of films as a type of art, La Jetee does not focus on movement. Instead, it creates the illusion of such by demonstrating separate images each of which remains obviously still. This technique helps to illustrate the fragmentary nature of the events depicted and adds to unreality of the environment. The only scene that seems to be real is the wink of the girl who has been staring into the camera. Furthermore, it is real in all senses – this is the only scene not made from a photo. Being absolutely unexpected and, therefore, surprising, the wink hints at the girl’s special role in the narrative. Having watched the movie to the end, it is possible to assume that the girl stands for main character’s past and conclude that the past is the only real thing in human life.
Marker was probably willing to drive his spectators to that same conclusion, and he succeeded. La Jetee shows senselessness of the present and impossibility of reaching the future by demonstrating both as a fragmentary set of images. Furthermore, the movie convinces the viewer that even people’s memories about their own past, also still and random, are not necessarily real. Motion in contrast to stillness is sufficient for creating the proper atmosphere. Presumably, habitual walking and talking characters would attract more viewers, but the director was hardly focusing on number. For a chamber film, the organization is appropriate since it gives pause for thought. Being an untypical film, La Jetee is not good for everyone, but primarily for those who are into philosophy and need meditation. For more straightforward individuals not fond of allusion and indirectness, the lack of action would be a disadvantage. Nevertheless, it is still worth watching as an example of breaking all possible canons of cinema.
To summarize, La Jetee by Chris Marker is an outstanding film, both in terms of form and content. It comprises separate still images and consequently does not tell a coherent story, encouraging the viewer to develop their own interpretation of what actually happens. The film’s specialty makes it attractive for deep thinkers and less interesting for those who like action, although they can watch it to learn more about the theory of cinema.