Cast: Helene Chatelain, Davos Hanich, Jacques Ledoux
La jetéeis a black and white science fiction film which challenges the concept of what makes a motion picture. This film is entirely composed of individual, frozen pictures photo-montage with sparse narration, yet the outcome is more than satisfying. Set in the post-apocalyptic future, after the outburst of World War III, a group of scientists entombed beneath the remnants of Paris are searching for salvation through the single avenue left-Time. In the name of humanity they experiment on time travelling by using prisoners as their guinea pigs and forcing them to travel back to their past and future. “This was the aim of the experiments: to send emissaries into Time, to summon the Past and Future to the aid of the Present.”Script from La jetée. Most of them are led to insanity or even death. Yet one of the prisoners, an unnamed man, the protagonist of the story, is named as the perfect guinea pig for the experiment as he withholds a very strong childhood memory which will be proven fateful. His memory is that of a beautiful woman he once saw as a kid on a pier. He finally lives his dream; he travels back to the past, falls in love with the woman he kept memory of for such a long time and chooses to live in a memory, in a dream full of nostalgia, rather than in a perfectly ordered future.
FIG.2: The experiment.
It is incredible how such a short film (28 min) can give so much and with such limited editing. The story accompanied with the emotionless narrating turns grim, riveting and hauntingly romantic thanks to the clever use of still images. It is clear how Chris Marker is making the use of memory, travelling and photographs to portray this trip in time and manages to make it look as real as possible. The images could have been in colour but he used black and white ones instead which“allows for more toying with contrast and suits the underground post nuke setting and noirish story.” (Lorefice.2003). And all this starts with a single image of a woman’s face on a pier, an ordinary moment which marked the man’s memory. Each image is placed there sensibly and has a different story to tell. They give the film a pleasant flow and move you from one aspect to another without being confusing. It's almost like an animation but instead of movement, the frames give structure to the story itself.
FIG.3: The image that marked the Man's life forever.
The soundtrack also plays a basic role to the mood of the story. It's a rare case where the soundtrack needs to be manipulative and embrace every image of the film. It provides the consistency to the whole film which is what the still images lack in. Marker uses every day sound effects that we usually take for granted like voices, the wind and the heart throbbing. Yet these very familiar sound effects are very effective as Marker is not using them as blaring aural attacks but as something you might not notice which makes them stand out. In addition, the narrator is also one of the reasons the audience gets so attached with the film. The narrator gives the chance to the audience to play the role of the eavesdropper, while he has the role of the casual speaker who even refers to the main character of the story as "the man whose story this is". The hidden message of the story is Time and how important it is to make the best use of it. The 'Man' chose to live the past rather than confront the haunting vision of the future. This reinforces the notion that Time is entirely subjective. He chose to re-live his entire life in just a few moments rather than spend an entire lifetime doing nothing and went for the only thing he was entirely sure of: the woman. But he died driven by the image which was haunting him for a lifetime and he is happy that way. Yet we are all meant to exist, live and die-in present and not meant to live in dreams. But who said we are not allowed to at least dream of what we really desire?