La Jetée (1962)
La Jetée, published in 1962, tells a story of a boy which witnesses himself die which begins inevitably WW III, and later as a prisoner gets injected a drug that sends him back to the past to make a connection with the people and find a way to bring peace to the present. After many trials he is successful in making the required connection and gets send back to the past permanently where he dies in front of himself completing the circle of the story.
Figure 1. Main Character Trialling Time Travelling (c1962)
Unlike most other films, La Jetée uses a picture book effect combined with a narrator to tell the story. The stills are held in black and white and are paced to create a sense of motion that compliments the scenes. Melin states: “Of the two films, La Jetée is the one with the only thing you could call a clear narrative. Narration, sound effects, and some mumbled German dialogue accompany a montage of still black-and-white photographs (by Jean Chiabaud) at various dramatic paces to create the illusion of a moving picture. That is, with one very notable and subtle exception where an image suddenly moves with a huge emotional impact.” (Melin, 2012:2) which illustrates that the medium of the stated picture book effect has been carefully chosen to create something that focuses more on story telling rather than straight forward plot. The picture book way of storytelling really helps to imbue the viewer in the story and creates a much richer atmosphere which helps to bring the characters and the straight forward plot to life in a unique way.
Figure 2. Memories (c1962)
While La Jetée is assigned to the science fiction genre, the film doesn’t concentrate on the technical terms that are usually associated with this genre but promotes one invention without further explanation on how it works. As Melin states: “La Jetée may be at once the simplest and most complicated of time-travel movies because although the plot is deceptively simple, Chris Marker doesn’t get mired in the complicated science of how time travel might work. Instead, it’s a stirring, emotional film about the unique hold memories have over people’s lives and how experiences themselves are fleeting.” (Melin, 2012:2) This demonstrates how the element of the “how” of the time travel is completely left out and seemingly unimportant while the film seems to concentrate mostly on the memories and emotions of the main character.
Figure 3. Scientist Still (c1962)
The mad scientist that is responsible for sending the main character into the past is the only character who has his own voice, he frequently mumbles in German which might be the films way of dealing with the happenings in WW II and translating them into La Jetée. As Hall states: “The presence of German-language voices calls to mind the grotesque medical experiments conducted in the Nazi concentration camps” (Hall, 2011:2) which perhaps suggests that this part of the film is directly relatable to the horrors of history, and might also be used to make the film seem more realistic and associate it more to this world. It is also worth noting that the camera always seems to show the scientist’s face from slightly below, which underlines his power and dominance which perhaps further relates one sided nature of concentration camps in WW II history.
The soundtrack is a very powerful one which compliments the stills of the film perfectly. It is a mix of a women’s choir, orchestral music and a sound that seems to mimic the main characters heartbeat. “It (La Jetée) manages to tell a gripping, haunting story and create an ominous and powerful atmosphere simply through the masterly manipulation of frozen images and a subtle soundtrack made up of heartbeats, whispers, jet engines and other sound effects, as well as Trevor Duncan's eerie music score.” (NA, NA:2) The writer of this review states how the soundtrack completes the film which combines simple elements to something extraordinary which in turn brings alive the film.
Overall La Jetée uses a mix of simple yet powerful devices to help convey its enthralling yet simple story across to the viewer. The use of still images and complimenting music bring the story to life and the unusual format of a science fiction movie concentrating more on characters and feelings rather than the science behind the events gives La Jetée a truly unique atmosphere and tone which sets it apart from other movies in its genre.
Figure 1: Marker, Chris. (1962) Main Character Trialling Time Travelling [Photograph for La Jetée]. Available from: http://revistacarbono.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/la-jetee-2.jpg (Accessed: 6/1/2015)
Figure 2: Marker, Chris. (1962) Memories [Photograph for La Jetée]. Available from: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Film/Pix/pictures/2009/3/27/1238174723232/Scene-from-La-Jetee-1962-001.jpg (Accessed: 6/1/2015)
Figure 3: Marker, Chris. (1962) Scientist still [Photograph for La Jetée]. Available from: http://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/s--gKe74HBG--/nsgok59ahnz1td1bvcsx.jpg (Accessed: 6/1/2015)
Melin, Eric. (2012): Available from: http://www.scene-stealers.com/columns/overlooked-movie-monday/la-jetee-sans-soliel-blu-ray-review/ (Accessed: 6/1/2015)
Hall, Phil. (2011) Available from: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/34818/ (Accessed: 6/1/2015)
NA. (NA) Available from: http://movies.tvguide.com/la-jetee/review/132177 (Accessed: 6/1/2015)