La Jetée, an Imaginary Film


What a relief to watch a masterpiece. I’m referring to the 1962 French science fiction film by Chris Marker, La Jetée. Although this is only a short film, constructed almost entirely from still photos, it nevertheless tells a story with intense conviction and is in my opinion masterfully done.

The story of La Jetée is set in post- Third World War, apocalyptic Paris where survivors live underground in the Palais de Chaillot galleries. The protagonist: A post-nuclear war survivor who is the victim of an experiment in time travel. The film is constructed of black and white film images and has no dialogue aside from small sections of muttering in German. The soundtrack and voice-over of a narrator depicts the whole story.

This film is a masterful merging of the basic elements of filmmaking. As a photomontage, the film required the director to convey the feeling of each scene by varying the pace and the transitions between the images. After watching the film, you also realize how important the narration is for creating the intensity which is needed to draw the viewer into the story. The way in which you recall La Jetée isn’t different to the way in which you would recall an ordinary film, i.e. moving pictures. It is this point that stands out the most when I think about La Jetée. What I will always remember about this film is that it made me realize that the way in which films are constructed in a viewers imagination is mainly that – imagination.

It is herein that lies the strange power and beauty manifested in the creation of a film (not to only praise La Jetée and Chris Marker,  but to emphasize the fact that films are as Chris Marker has shown).  As a film’s images trigger and rearrange images from our personal memory, experiencing someone else’s film becomes an experience of our own imaginations.


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