La Jetee (French for "The Pier" or "The Jetty") is a 1962 science fiction film directed by Chris Markers, in contrast to a motion picture using rolling film this picture uses photographic stills with a voice over. The film centres around the narrator who is seemingly a prisoner and is to be used as a guinea pig by his captors in time travel experiments in an attempt to repair their broken world.
According to the narration the world has been devastated by a third World War involving nuclear weapons, the experiments conducted by the narrators captors are somewhat successful though many "volunteers" suffer grave mental injury by time travel.
Figure 1 - A time travel volunteer after their journey.
In Figure 1 we can see a volunteer presumably being treated for the mental trauma they have sustained from their time travel journey, initially however this could've been the image of a survivor of the war, possibly one who witnessed the nuclear attacks and suffered for it.
The use of a very dull monochrome colour helps to give the film a very gritty, sordid sort of feel to it. The grey/black/white photos feel like wartime photographs, the film relies on the emotions being generated by the characters and not by its colours. "DT" of Time Out magazine states; "Marker uses monochrome images recognisably from the past, such as the ruins of Europe after WWII, and with a few small props and effects, subtly suggests a future environment" (DT, N/A), in agreement with this point is the fact that Marker has used a particular set of images and colours in this film to give a certain "feel", very apocalyptic and almost futuristic, in extension of his idea it is possible this is how Marker or others may portray what the future may look like, not necessarily a monochrome place but one that is bleak and unwelcoming.
Later on in the film we see the woman on the jetty, this is also the scene where earlier on the narrator states that he witnessed a traumatic event in his childhood that he himself is unable to fully recall, only later in the film do we learn that this is in fact his death. His future self is killed and he as a child witnesses it.
Figure 2 - The narrator is killed while approaching the woman on the jetty
During the last few scenes of the film we see a fast moving montage of photos of the narrator approaching the woman on the jetty, before he can reach her however his killed by another man (one of the other scientists). The fast moving nature of this scene achieved by showing the photographs of the narrator running in rapid successions helps to bring out the action of the scene and express the energy of the characters.
La Jetee also shares fame with another one of Chris Marker's films; Sans Soleil, it also looks at human memory or memories. Jefferey Anderson of online film website Combustile Celluloid states in his review: "Taken together, Sans Soleil makes up a tapestry of memories that questions the entire nature of memory, while celebrating that of cinema." (Anderson, N/A).
Anderson's statement presents some interesting things to think about, one being about the film's use of photographs rather than motion. Photographs are pictures than capture everything and human life is often the subject of photography, the photographs capture a story in the same way a video camera would just in a still manner, it is possibly this idea which makes the film so effective. The films narrative also deals with time travel, if we look at the film through a philosophical perspective the act of time travelling could be symbolic of a man searching through his memories.
Eric Melin of Scene Stealers notes: "Instead, it’s a stirring, emotional film about the unique hold memories have over people’s lives and how experiences themselves are fleeting." (Melin, 2012). Melin's statement demonstrates how the film is more to do with the human element that explaining the physics of time travel. It further lends credence to the idea of human memories being searched throughout the film and the time travel as a metaphor for searching.
Figure 3 - A scientist of the time travel project.
The film also uses a remarkably small number of props and environments for a science fiction film, usually science fiction (particularly time travel) relies heavily on its setting and props to portray futurism and often the dynamics of time travel are also explored but in La Jetee the futuristic element is minimal in regards to props and environment.
La Jetee is held in high regard by critics and continues to be held as an influential and significant work of science fiction.
DT, N/A, [Online] Available at: http://www.timeout.com/london/film/la-jetee [Accessed 6th January 2014]
Jefferey M. Anderson, N/A, [Online] Available at: http://www.combustiblecelluloid.com/classic/lajetee.shtml [Accessed 6th January 2014]
Eric Melin, 2012, [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.scene-stealers.com/columns/overlooked-movie-monday/la-jetee-sans-soliel-blu-ray-review/ [Accessed 6th January 2014]
Figure - 1
Chris Marker, 1962, P_original.jpg [ONLINE] Available at: http://s3.amazonaws.com/criterion-production/stills/3638-17f9fe315ecf2a7fea2c96036271f6ba/P_original.jpg [Accessed 6th January 2015]
Chris Marker, 1962, LJ_SS_Page_Still_original.jpg [ONLINE] Available at: http://s3.amazonaws.com/criterion-production/product_images/1505-b2cd0ce10ae50ccaddf336cd797dbd2c/LJ_SS_Page_Still_original.jpg [Accessed 6th January 2015]
Chris Marker, 1962, La_Jetee_1.jpg [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.newyorkerfilms.com/administrator/movie_images/1312302170La_Jetee_1.jpg [Accessed 6th January 2015]