Chris Marker

Last Night I was asked to host the French Film Night at the college where I worked. One of the films selected for showing was La Jetée (The Jetty), a 1962 film by Chris Marker.  I have to admit that I had never heard about the film director or the film itself, so I had to do a bit of research prior to the event in order to not embarrass myself and the college. Disappointingly, a grand total of seven people attended the Film night, which is why I am sharing this information with you, in the hope that a few more people might benefit from my effort!

The first thing that came to my mind was that Chris Marker did not sound at all like a French name.  Well, that is because his real name was Christian-Francois Bouche-Villeneuve. As it was a bit of a mouthful and that he liked travelling, he chose a pseudonym that would be pronounceable in most languages. Chris Marker is indeed much easier to say than Christian-Francois Bouche-Villeneuve!

Chris Marker was born on 29 July 1921 and died on his birthday at the age of 91 in 2012. He was a writer, photographer and film director. He studied philosophy, joined the French Resistance movement during the German occupation of France and worked as a journalist.

He published his first and only novel Le Coeur Net (The Forthright Spirit) in 1950. The style is apparently reminiscent of Camus or Saint- Exupéry and features a pilot as the main character. There is a rumour that he joined the US Airforce during WWII to help fight the Nazis,  but the rumour was never confirmed. Planes do appear in a lot of his films though, so maybe there is some truth behind that rumour.

Here is a short extract of the opening paragraph of Un Coeur Net:

Un accident, ce n’est rien, ce n’est très exactement rien. Il y a le moment d’avant, où l’avion quitte la piste, où certaine qualité de silence autour de lui, certaine attente de la lumière autour de lui, le dérobent au mouvement, fontaine pétrifiante, (comme un ange pressé qui dépouillerait l’homme de son âme, comme le bandeau mis sur les yeux du condamné, une seconde avant la morte) — et le moment d’après, où l’avion n’est plus qu’une fléchette piquée dans la terre, une sauterelle grillée, une croix… Entre les deux, rien.

An accident — it’s nothing, it is quite literally nothing. There’s the moment just before, when the aircraft leaves the runway, when a certain quality of silence, something static about the light all round it, seems to immobilise it, to make of it a petrifying fountain (so might a hurried angel strip a man of his soul a second before death, so is a bandage put over the eyes of a condemned man)—and the moment afterwards, when the aircraft is no more than a dart stuck in the earth, a burnt-out grasshopper, a crucifix. Between the two moments—nothing.

La Jetée (The Jetty), the film that started my investigations, was released in 1962.  It is a black and white film set in post-nuclear WWIII and tells of an experiment in time travel by using a series of filmed photographs developed as a photo-montage of varying pace, with limited narration and sound effects. It is a metaphor for our entrapment in time. We cannot escape it, even through memory.  The film is only 28 minutes long and I have put the full version below. I must admit that I really enjoyed the film although I was wary at first because it was made of still photographs. Below is the full version with English subtitles, in case you want to watch it too.

Chris Marker made many more films: Le joli Mai (The Lovely Month of May) in 1963,  Le Fond de l’Air est Rouge whose title in English is strangely  A Grin without a Cat  in 1977, Sans Soleil  (Sunless) in 1983, and many many more. He liked exploring new technologies and even had his YouTube channel where he used to upload some of his videos. I could give you more details but then this post would be too long, so I will leave it at that. There is plenty more information on the available on the internet, should you wish to discover more about Chris Marker.


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