Released in 1962, La Jetée (The Jetty or The Pier) is a 28 minute film narrated almost entirely from black and white still photography. The narration is done through a voice over and very little dialogue occurs throughout. The story is set in post-apocalyptic Paris where scientists are experimenting with time travel in order "to call past and future to the rescue of the present." A nameless man becomes the most promising subject because he has an obsessive memory of his childhood in where he witnesses passenger jets take off, a man falling to the ground, shot, and killed, and a distraught woman standing as another witness to the scene. Through the series of still shots, we experience the time travel to the past and the future.
La Jetee's film director, Chris Marker, packs so much detail into this short film and introduces it as the landmark to sci-fi. Not only does it deal with imagined innovations in science and technology, it also utilizes its form to twist around themes like time and memories. The themes of the apocalypse, travel, loss, hope, and memory are some of the main concerns that the film examines through its content and aesthetics. As the protagonist voyages from the post wwiii present to the past, the film also takes this journey through time rather than space.
Interesting fact! La Jetee was the inspiration for Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys that starred Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, and Brad Pitt. In fact, executive producer of 12 Monkeys persuaded Chris Marker to expand the 28 minute film into a full length science fiction film. Similarities between the two films include their nonlinear storyline and time travel subplot.
Here are some of the things you want to be thinking of while watching the film:
- Why does Marker choose to portray the film through stills rather than motion pictures? are we viewers affected in any way by this kind of presentation?
- Consider the themes of time, memory, and how reality is experienced. What does the film reveal about our own memories? Consider even what this film has to say about cinema.
- Although there's not much dialogue taking place in the film, do the voice over and the other sound effects form its own narrative?
Here's the video clip of La Jetee: