Tuesday, 5 January 2016

La Jetee - Film Review

The 1962 film La Jetee, directed by Chris Marker, is the unique and emmersive production telling the surprisingly romantic story of a young man who is captured  and undergoes experiments during the fictional events of World War III. The story starts with the tale of a young boy viewing the debarking planes from a commercial airport, we see 'The Man' (Davos Hanich) with his parents enjoying the sights when suddenly the character witness' a murder on the end of the viewing platform. Soon after this the film jumps ahead to a later date when this young boy has become an adult, he is captured in France and undergoes experiments in an underground camp. Due to these experiments, The Man is subject to viewing the lives of a happy couple as they venture through their relationship. After the experiments have been concluded, his captors grant him the chance to go back in time and find this woman he has been seeing during the experiments. On arrival at the airport from his childhood The Man ventures to the end of the viewing area to find this woman when he is suddenly reminded of the horrific experiments he had previously been subject to, as he observes one of his captors at the end of the walkway along with this mysterious woman, and is shot dead. And in a truly 21st century science fiction manor, it was his own future selves death he had witnessed on the end of the platform all those years ago as a child.

Fig 1: Poster, La Jetee

From the very first minute of this 27 minute film, it's obvious that the manor in which the story is told is going to beautifully sit outside the box of regular story telling, as the entire film is shown through the medium of still images being accompanied by narration, provided by Jean Negroni. Geoff Andrew states that "the fluid montage leads the viewer into the sensation of watching moving images" (Andrew, 2006), something that arguably couldn't of been achieved without the partnership of the narration and subtle sound effects. This manner of photographic film making sends the viewer into a much more personal experience as the narration really seduces the audience into feeling as if the story is being told, rather than leaving it completely up to the viewer to determine the 'ahead of its time' (pardon the pun) plot line. The idea of still images being used to portray a plot is something that seems to allude modern day cinema because of the attention required from a viewer, which is arguably a great shame as La Jetee really proves to be an extremely engaging piece, something that all film makers surely set out to achieve when creating their movie.

Fig 2: Screenshot, La Jetee

Due to these still images being completely at the for front of the film, some areas are extremely reliant on sound to help create an immersive ambience. These subtle sound scapes that sit neatly under the narration of the film really allow a viewer to almost fill in the gaps that have been made due to the lack of moving images throughout, all together allowing for a more inclusive experience. There is obvious need for sound in a piece like La Jetee as the still images can sometimes prove difficult to connect with for an audience as characters motives and attributes can be un apparent or go unnoticed due to the lack of dialogue and vocal interaction, meaning that the viewer can become alienated from the ongoing storyline. Luckily, La Jetee is a film that hasn't fallen victim to this issue and the subtle areas of sound accompanied by the narration help include the audience in the narrative.

There is no doubt that La Jetee really does harbour a storyline so reliant on science fiction acceptance it almost rivals some narratives of modern day cinema. This notion of time travel that appears in La Jetee really has managed to stick to the foundations of many a science fiction logic and manifest itself in many of the creative pieces an audience will witness in modern day television and cinema. Jonathan Rosenbaum describes it as "One of the best of all SF films" (Rosenbaum, 2007), which is difficult to disagree with once you see the impression it has made on the genre. There is no doubt that these ideas of time travel have inspired countless filmmakers and writers over the years, leaving us with the time travelling veterans that the 21st century has adored so fondly for many years, including the likes of Doctor who and countless superhero icons.

Fig 3: Screenshot, La Jetee

At first glance La Jetee sets itself up to be a one of a kind piece of cinema, creating a void of moving image and replacing it with compelling narration accompanied by provoking still images. William Gibson states "I can’t remember another single work of art ever having had that immediate and powerful an impact, which of course makes the experience quite impossible to describe" (Gibson, 2015) which gives off an accurate representation of the effect this unique piece can have. One cannot argue that La Jetee has left a welcome stain on the genres of science fiction and fantasy and will no doubt continue to be the roots of many a writers ideas and concepts.

Illustration List

Fig 1, Poster, La Jetee, http://www.quixote.com/lajeteeposter/, Accessed on 5/1/16

Fig 2, Screenshot, La Jetee, https://allfordeadtime.wordpress.com/tag/la-jetee/, Accessed on 5/1/16

Fig 3, Screenshot, La Jetee, http://chrismarker.org/2015/06/william-gibson-on-la-jetee/, Accessed on 5/1/16


Andrew, Geoff, 2006, La Jetee, http://www.timeout.com/london/film/la-jetee, Accessed on 5/1/16

Gibson, William, 2015, William Gibson on La Jetee, http://chrismarker.org/2015/06/william-gibson-on-la-jetee/, Accessed on 5/1/16

Rosenbaum, Jonathan, 2007, La Jetee, http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/la-jetee/Film?oid=1061951, Accessed on 5/1/16


  1. Good review, Lewis - just a typo I noticed - you've got 'manor' (which is a type of building) instead of 'manner'.

  2. :) Excellent, Lewis - just be careful to maintain the same font throughout...