La Jetee

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What is it?

From the Wiki:  “A 1962 French science fiction featurette by Chris Marker. Constructed almost entirely from still photos, it tells the story of a post-nuclear war experiment in time travel. It is 28 minutes long and shot in black and white.”

Who liked it?

Everybody. It has a 92% critic rating and a 93% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Let that sink in for a minute–a super short completely unconventional black and white art house head trip that regular folks like even better than critics do.

What’s it about?

Well, it’s a little bit opaque, but most people seem to think it’s somehow about memory, a theory borne out to some degree by this extraordinary piece of dialogue:

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

This is a bizarre thing to say, so forgive me in advance, but I connect this line most with sex. Not only are sexual experiences the most timeless moments we have, but it’s never until afterward that a realization of how good or bad it was begins to settle in and you realize what he’s talking about here has happened.

If you happen to watch this film on Filmstruck or purchase the Criterion Release, an interesting “special feature” analyzes the film as an homage or re-imagining of Hitchcock’s Vertigo. I know, right? I can’t recall the arguments well enough to cite them here, but I think it’s a hoot that such a famous film might ultimately be just the impulse of an obsessed fan.

What I liked about it:

Marker was a photographer and a very good one. Watching it, it’s easy to think at first, hey, I could do that, and then be struck by how remarkable the artistry truly is.

I don’t want to spoil anything for anybody, so I’ll just say this: Those who’ve seen it will know what I’m talking about. Sesame Street used to do a “one of these things is not like the others” routine.  Marker pulls one of those in La Jetee, and it resulted in the most purely magical cinematic moment I’ve ever had.

What I didn’t like about it: Yeah, I got nothing, see comment #2 under “what I liked about it.” I suspect this film is one of the few that actually benefits from being watched alone. In fact, the more you can make the viewing environment like an isolation tank, the more impact it is likely will have.

This movie belongs on a list of gateway films for art house. Whether you get it or not, you’ll get it.

 

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