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Thursday, 7 January 2016

Cutting Edge : La Jetee (1962)

Fig 1 : La Jetee Poster
Watching Chris Marker`s ‘La Jetee’ (1962) for the first time was a complete unique experience, building the foundations of modern sci-fi films with the unusual yet charming slideshow layout. Compared to modern day cinema, it is refreshing to see a film taking a step back away from CG and taking a different route and still successfully create an atmosphere which makes the audience feel emerged yet disturbed. “It highlights why we are attracted to SF in the first place: not for bug-eyed aliens or galaxy-hopping spaceships, but for the way in which the form can twist our most cherished versions of reality inside out.” (Sellars, 2005). Simon Sellars makes a true yet interesting point due to the modern state of the Sci-Fi genre consisting mainly of aliens, the imagination set in distorting reality seemed to have disappeared or is minimally explored. Where parallel universes seem to be the extent of this theme explored, this could be why La Jetee sets itself away from the current genre, because of the artistic exploration.

While the film was quite haunting with the thumping soundtrack playing as the main character sits there lifeless, the audience are quickly confused as to which is reality and what is a dream. With no clear definition until the end, the film is a haunting maze as the audience is forced to watch and listen to the monologue of his torture. Even Schefer quotes: “This experimental subject is trapped—as in a labyrinth—in the drama of memory whose whole experience consists in making something his own (in a certain way he dies within himself, by a reconciliation or a coincidence of time and images).” (Schefer, 1990). The audience is left unsure if the narration is from the man himself as he approaches his death, or a scientist travelling alongside him like a guardian angel until he reaches his demise. It could also be that the one narrating his life could be the scientist that killed him in his final moments. The only clear piece of the timeline is that the man he saw die as a child was himself, and his timeline was a loop that always ended in his demise despite his belief that he could escape death.

Despite the images being black and white, the use of high contrast in the laboratory gave a sense of danger and intensity, which along with the simple thumping soundtrack pumped up the scene so the audience could engage with the scene more. The clever use of where the contrast
Fig 2 : Mask
hits the photographs is cleverly done, especially with the experiment where his skin is a pale grey, representing a neutral party and the crisp white mask almost wiping away his identity. His identity may be wiped since eyes are usually represented as the doors to the soul, containing all personality and individuality, which could be why they mask his eyes, so, that extinguishes any form of individuality.

Continuing on with the use of contrast, the midtones may indicate an area of peace or neutral party. Evidence of this is during the dream sequences, the colours seem to be died down with less of a contrast in the environment and characters whereas when it comes to reality where the subject is in the laboratory, the contrast showing intense shadows on the scientists face give a frightening look to them, making their faces look like skulls with piercing black eyes. With no
Fig 3 : Laboratory
evidence of the environment around them seeing their faces stare into the camera is frightening enough to set the atmosphere.

Overall, watching this film was an eye opening experience to the history of film and how it influenced modern day film and video installation art. Although overlooked due to its unique style, it is clear to see how La Jetee was the building blocks to modern day blockbusters and masterpieces. As a closing quote, Zoe Pilger says: “Video installation art is now all the rage, but Marker elevates the form. In so doing, he highlights how much rubbish is produced today.” (Pilger, 2014).

Bibliography : 

 Illustrations : 
Fig 1 : La Jetee Poster (1962) [Poster] :
Fig 2 : La Jetee Film Still (1962) [Screengrab] :

Fig 3 : (1962) [Screengrab] : 

Resources :

Schefer , J (1990) On La Jetee Accessed 07/01/16

Sellars , S (2005) Retrospecto : La Jetee Accessed 07/01/16

Pilger , Z (2014) Chris Marker : Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch : Accessed : 07/01/16


  1. This is a very thoughtful and engaging review, Sarah. A number of your classmates were similarly taken by this short, thought-provoking little gem. Good stuff!

  2. Lovely review Sarah - it sounds as though you really found it interesting :)