Little known outside of European art-houses, Chris Marker, who fought with the French resistance during World War II, was a unique, original, multi-talented French photographer, documentary and movie director, artist, writer and essayist. Among his works is AK (1985), focussing on the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa.
My personal favorite of all his filmed works is La Jetée (aka The Jetty/The Pier) (1962).
This 28-minute short movie brought him fresh acclaim in 1995, when director and one-time member of Monty Python, Terry Gilliam, used La Jetée as the inspiration and basis for his movie: 12 Monkeys, starring Bruce Willis, Madeline Stowe, Brad Pitt, Christopher Plummer and David Morse.
La Jetée is composed almost entirely of black-and-white still photographs, with the story being told as voice-over narration with added music and sound-effects. The viewer gets so engrossed in the story and used to the flow of the still images that the only moment of actual real motion is almost surreal; with the character of The Woman (Hélène Chatelain), opening her eyes and blinking into the camera – from the point of view of The Man (Davos Hanich), a faint smile moving across her face before it cuts to the next still image.
La Jetée opens with a view of Orly Airport, in Paris, with flash images of a man apparently being shot and killed while a woman looks on.
Jump to a stark future, following the world being devastated by World War III, and the survivors living under ground (the difference in 12 Monkeys is that the world’s population has almost been totally wiped out by a flu-like virus). A callous heirachy exists far below the city, with survivors being used as prisoners and slaves, subjected to harsh experiments as their controllers struggle to harness the means to travel through time.
The Man is chosen because of his recurring dreams and memories of the event at Orly airport, which he witnessed as a child. During his hypnosis-induced jaunts back through time, he meets and develops a relationship with The Woman.
Will his love for her provide him with an escape through time? Or is his fate inexorable?
Anyone who has enjoyed 12 Monkeys and is passionate about movies should make the effort to see La Jetée.
Chris Marker died on 30 July 2012, the day after his 91st birthday. His body of work is vast and varied, but he’ll always be remembered most for the ground-breaking and atmospheric La Jetée.
In memory of Chris Marker (29 July, 1921 – 30 July, 2012)