Monday, 7 February 2011

La Jetée

Earth has been hit by a nuclear war and the last few remaining humans begin to research time travel in order to send someone back before the war began to bring food, supplies and maybe a solution to their position. The man chosen for the experiments is haunted by a childhood memory of a man dying on a pier which proves to be fateful.

La Jetée creates a haunting story through the use of powerful still images accompanied by a narration of the traveller in the images and a faint soundtrack. It is an incredible art-directed film because of its simple use of the images and narration. It shows that a movie can be engaging without a performance or contemporary editing techniques of today. The images are very powerful especially re-used images of France’s structures in World War II to give an impression of the future. Heilman writes ‘The photographed black and white stills have a uniformly grainy look to them, suggesting memory is a hazy and unreliable stand-in for reality while evoking the photography that documented France’s razing during World War II. The images of destruction are recycled ones, pretending to show us a future yet to come, but in reality showing the past’s ruin, making their use thematically relevant. That Marker builds a considerable amount of suspense without the use of traditional performances or tricks is impressive.’ (Heilman, 2002)

La Jetée isn’t a film as such but more of an experience. In a sense it is a silent film accompanied every now and then by slight soundtrack and creepy whispers. These fit in so very well with the theme of the film creating a sense of the audience being stuck in time, stuck in the moment of the still. Accompanied by the narration and soundtrack it pulls us into the narrative and makes it feel horribly real inducing the audience into the experience and forcing us to empathise with the main character. Jardine comments ‘While the lack of dialogue focuses even more attention on the narration, without which the story would be incomprehensible, it also makes us feel the weight of each photograph. The emphasis placed upon each individual shot is immense. We are asked to consider much more deeply the emotion, the idea behind of each moment, and how it relates to the moment before and after it. In a word, montage. Tarkovsky sculpted in time, Marker froze us in it.’(Jardine 2006)

The images of the film are linked to that of the memory of the traveller. The image of a woman from his childhood becomes an obsession for him which he pursues in his visit to the past. Memory is something that can be affected over time, things are forgotten, forcing them to become fragmented and broken like that of the stills in the film. Again in reference to the quote from Heilman the pictures are grainy to signify the decay of the human mind through time. Taylor writes ‘The ability of memory is significant, here. As the man is transported into the past, the “peacetime” according to the film’s vocabulary, his perception is constructed according to his memory of it. Expectedly, the face of a woman he saw briefly in his childhood - an image he obsesses - becomes manifested in this biased past. In the film, travelling to the past is more an act of remembering it, fashioning a scenario out of incidental, remembered ephemera. Memory is not constant; it is necessarily fragmented. This concept is invariably mended to the manner in which it is used in the film.’ (Taylor 2004) 

A similar feeling of that experienced in viewing David Lynch’s Eraserhead, La Jetée exposes its audience to an experience truly horrifying through grainy stills signifying a decaying memory. A narrative where the protagonist is caught in an inescapable paradox accompanied by the soundtrack it is creepy and immersive, creating extreme emotions towards the protagonists inevitable end for his greed at the attempt of playing god.


Jeremy Heilman, La Jetée review, 2nd July 2002, accessed on 7/2/2011

Dan Jardine, La Jetée Review, 4th September 2006, accessed on 7/2/2011

Rumsey Taylor, La Jetée Review, 11th July 2004, accessed on 7/2/2011


Movie Poster - accessed on 7/2/2011

The beginning of World War III - accessed on 7/2/2011

The traveller being experimented on - accessed on 7/2/2011

The Woman of the travellers past - accessed on 7/2/2011

The travellers inevitable end - accessed on 7/2/2011

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