Scen.: Chris Marker. F.: Jean Chiabaut. M.: Jean Ravel. Mus.: Trevor Duncan. Int.: Hélène Chatelain (la donna), Davos Hanich (l’uomo), Jacques Ledoux (lo scienziato), Jean Négroni (voce narrante), André Heinrich, Jacques Branchu, Pierre Joffroy, Étienne Becker. Prod.: Anatole Dauman per Argos Films. DCP. D.: 27’. Bn.
La Jetée is a cine-roman, a film-novel that operates within the strictest of economies. It is a film composed almost exclusively of still images, with the bare essentials of a story told in voice-over. It is an extraordinary film of ‘a man marked by an image from his childhood’, and it opens with a replay of this childhood moment. These are the ‘facts’, although facts benefit us little in this particular story. In the circular movement of the film, in which the end arrives at the beginning and so the beginning is also the ending, the concrete facts do not add up to much. A child witnesses his own death as a man, defying the premise of chronological time. […]
In less than half an hour, the film takes us into a projected present, a fabricated past and an imagined future. La Jetée is the story of a man who travels through time to secure the future of humanity in a post-apocalyptic context. […] It’s a story about going back. It tells of a man whose desire is to return to the past, and as such it is a film that echoes other stories, cultural myths that are full of warning. Orpheus loses his lover through a backward glance. Oedipus blinds himself after returning to his mother. In Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Scottie falls foul of a desire to re-stage his relationship with a woman, to consciously turn back the clocks. […]
The grip that La Jetée has on us is in imagining one thing through another. There is no immediate access to things, either the past through photographs or the future through science. Perception is always mediated, framed or set up, and with Marker, the frame is always an unexpected thing, like an old object found in the back of a cupboard. So in his idea of the future, Marker approaches it (frames it) through the skeleton of a leaf or the etching of tree bark. But this mediated way of seeing is not of the order of revelation. Its effect is not to disclose the secret qualities of things but, on the contrary, to spin a web of correspondences, to show us all of the connections and likenesses and differences of things. This is not a film disclosing something ‘about’ photography or its ontology, but a photo-roman that shows us photography through the frame of cinema. In so doing, we are exposed to qualities of movement and stillness that in belonging to each, belong differently.
Janet Harbord, La Jetée, Afterall Books, London 2009