Thursday, 12 January 2017

La Jetée - Film Review

fig.1 Movie poster
Directed by Chris Marker ‘La Jetée’ is a 1962 French film, having a total run time of 28 minutes. Despite the relatively short run time for a film ‘La Jetée’ has been regarded as one of the greatest “time loop” films. The film itself consists of a rather unusual, experimental method of storytelling within the film industry. Containing only one live action shot the majority of the film is formed by a series of stills and sounds.

‘La Jetée’ follows the story of an unnamed man who is kept as a prisoner in a post-apocalyptic Paris. Following World War Three the human race is forced to live underground doomed to extinction. The protagonist, against his will, undergoes several experiments that send him to different points in time. Eventually this results in his inevitable death.

Firstly focusing on what makes the film unique, is the use of still images in place of the conventional footage. Now classed as a ‘Photo-Roman’, the film is made up mostly by black and white 
photographs that are narrated to form the story. Marker himself regarded the piece as a ‘photo novel’ rather than a film. It is this feature that helps to create a far more romantic and nostalgic feeling as the story is narrated over the photographs of the past, much like how one would recall their own story to the new generation. It is not this feature alone that helps to invoke these feelings as Marker also makes effective use of sound design and pacing of the images. It is only when these components are married together that the film speaks to the viewer. As expressed by Bruce Kawin in his book ‘Film Quarterly’, “The visual track consists primarily of still photos connected by straight cuts, fades, and dissolves; the editing rhythms and the variations in camera position are so like those in conventional “moving pictures” that the spectator may feel s/he is watching a move rather than a comic book. “ (Kawin B.1982)  In this regard Marker has been able to integrate the ‘photo-roman’ technique in place of live footage having a similar effect as a conventional film.

While ‘La Jetée’ is strong visually, using a number of black and white images to provoke feelings the film is also strong in terms of sound design. In addition to the narrator there is the additional layer of ambient noise making the film more immersive and believable. The sound track is well balanced with the following images, helping to sustain the story for the 28 minutes of images.

“The soundtrack's texture is similarly sparse, and the fluid montage leads the viewer” (TD, 2016) 

Not unlike conventional film the stills require great use of timing in order to convey a certain feeling. Marker makes effective use of both the stills and timing by increasing the pace at which the images passes over the viewers. More happy, mellow stills are left a little longer to soak in. Frantic scenes such as the ones seen before the protagonist’s death are played in quick succession to invoke worry and the lack of time.

Another reoccurring theme that is present throughout ‘La Jetée’ is the contrast between the darker and brighter stills. These stills often are used to help indicate the location and time of the character during his story with the darker scenes depicting the present and the future. The lighter shots show memories of the past of a happier time. This leads on the bigger question of where one is truly happy, at which period of time. Overall the film contains various thought provoking images combined with a strong sound design leading to a memorable film.


DT. (2016) La Jetée. (Accessed 12/01/2017)

Kawin, B. (1982) Film Quarterly (Accessed 12/01/2017)

Schefer, J-L. (1995) (Accessed 12/01/2017)

Illustration list

Fig.1 La Jetée Movie Poster. (2016) [Poster] (2016) Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. (Accessed 12/01/2017)

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