“Nothing distinguishes memories from ordinary moments”: ‘La Jetee’ Review

Posted in The Screening Room by - May 20, 2017
“Nothing distinguishes memories from ordinary moments”: ‘La Jetee’ Review

Time travel allows us to go back in time and adjust our experiences in ways that can be life altering. There’s something special and mind-bending about this concept but one of the most thought-provoking things about a film like La Jetee is how, even from the early age of cinema, time travel was a topic that simply is irresistible to explore.

Even if you’ve never seen Chris Marker’s highly experimental short film, running at 29 minutes, you’ve probably felt its massive influence in the science fiction genre. Films like Terry Gilliam’s underrated 12 Monkeys, which directly borrow elements from La Jetee, have been inspired in its filmmaking and storytelling capabilities.

Marker’s film which tells the story of a man who is sent back in time to try to stop World War III and develops a romantic relationship with a woman from the past. It’s a wonderfully complex tale of love, hope and trying to do what is right but what is one of the more interesting things about it is that it’s told in photographs – beautiful black and white still photography that perfectly captures the devastation of the future but the hope of the past.

If you’ve seen 12 Monkeys then that premise sounds very similar to the journey that Bruce Willis’ James Cole goes on: a time-traveling odyssey of personal growth and world preservation. There’s something beautiful about the perseverance of human existence that 12 Monkeys captures but that it wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for La Jetee. Even with its silent aesthetic and emphasis on gorgeous visuals, La Jetee remains a masterpiece of visual storytelling that perfectly encapsulates how cinema can be used to tell complex and imaginative stories just with images at its front and center.

With its noir-y influenced vibe (there’s very little dialogue and what is spoken is told in narration) and a stunning view of a future world where time travel is the only way to save it, La Jetee is a must watch for science fiction fans.  It’s by no means an action-packed story (unlike other time travel films like Looper or Back to the Future) but rather La Jetee has more in common with something like Primer. Even though Primer focuses more on the mechanics of time travel and taking a highly detailed and realistic view of what would happen if time travel were real, La Jetee is instead full of mood, contemplation and pondering the meaning of human existence through a science fiction prism.

Marker’s decision to focus on how an apocalyptic story affects one man’s journey through time is one that is highly influential in its tone and aesthetic. Not only is 12 Monkeys a film that was massively influenced by it but you can also trace that inspiration to Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind where it’s a futuristic tale that deals with love and memory. Visually arresting, emotional and uncompromising in its storytelling, La Jetee remains a seminal entry in the genre and one of the essential time travel films ever made.

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He is an avid movie fan and loves to write about movies perhaps a little too much. He also considers Casino Royale to be the best James Bond film ever made and he’s ready to defend at any moment.

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