French writer and filmmaker Chris Marker was one of the most unique voices in the French New Wave. Labelled as the only real film essayist of the country, Marker was associated with the Left Bank filmmakers of the New Wave like Alain Resnais who called him “the prototype of the twenty-first-century man.” His 1962 sci-fi short La Jetée is probably his best-known work despite the fact that his illustrious filmography contains other gems like Sans Soleil and A Grin Without a Cat.
Made almost entirely from still photographs, La Jetée is a fascinating vision of a time travel experiment conducted in a post-nuclear war world. It imagines the cataclysmic effects of a third World War, experimenting with conventional notions of time and space. At its core, La Jetée is a powerful exploration of what it means to be human through its investigations of memory and mortality.
Marker’s seminal short film ended up winning the prestigious Prix Jean Vigo and has been rightly recognised as one of the most influential cinematic essays of all time. It has gone on to inspire other films like Mamoru Oshii’s The Red Spectacles and Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys among others. La Jetée was also included by Steven Schneider in his compilation of “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”.
In a 2003 interview, Marker commented: “Under the orders of Jean-Luc, I’ve said for a long time that films should be seen first in theatres and that television and video are only there to refresh your memory. Now that I no longer have any time at all to go to the cinema, I’ve started seeing films by lowering my eyes, with an ever increasing sense of sinfulness.”
Watch Chris Marker’s brilliant 1962 short film La Jetée, below.