Wednesday, 6 January 2016

"La Jetée" (1962) - A review.

Fig 1.

La Jetée (1962) directed by Chris Marker is an experimental short film concerning time travel, the extent of its reach felt in movies such as Terminator, 12 Monkeys and scores of other lesser films concerning time travel - perhaps “Somewhere in time” (1980) which utilises a similar device for time travel, sending a mind through time. Primarily utilising still imagery with rapid cuts to convey the story. At 28 minutes, La Jetée never outstays it’s welcome despite its use of media, and in fact benefits from it. Centering on a young boy at an airport that spies a beautiful woman before witnessing the mysterious death of a man by an unknown assassin before skipping through an atomic war that has rended Earth inhospitable and unable to support life; the boy - now a man - becomes a feasible test subject for time travel experiments due to his strong connection to the past, in particular the image of the woman, and the dying man; resulting in a series of time travel experiments in order to obtain supplies to restart the human effort.

Fig 2.
Perhaps most notable of La Jetée is its use of still imagery. A device it uses almost narratively during proceedings, for it replicates a sense of the dreamlike; but also a sense of recollection, of memory; scattered and nonsensical. It is an examination not only of time travel and memory on film“...but for the way in which the form can twist our most cherished versions of reality inside out.” (Sellers, 2005) This idea crystallizes in a moment where La Jetée breaks its visual rules with a longingly held shot of the woman that has held the traveller's obsession through his disjointed life. In this ‘shot’ stills begin to merge to form a rudimentary animation before giving way to a full shot of her eyes opening in gaze towards the camera. But even so “The film emphasizes the illusion of time lapse and movement perceived both by the characters within the film” (Filmslie, 2016) and it is with these editing tricks that La Jetée becomes more than the sum of its parts. Michel Gondry once stated of the film...“The human brain forgets the cuts” and this is important in further distinguishing the still technique as more than a stylistic flare, as though it is intrinsic to the themes of La Jetée; memory, mortality and our relationship to past events. Are we beholden to the past? Is our recollection unreliable? Do we perhaps cling to the fragments of happiness?

Fig 3.
In terms of sound design, La Jetée shines, an article discusses that “The sound is the only truly continuous element in La Jetee. As such, it is the main source of temporality and rhythm” (Filmslie, 2016) as it is with the narration and constant audio interaction that the audience is pulled through the short, making the photo-novel increasingly accessible until it is as though you are watching a moving picture, and indeed this interaction between the still picture and almost chaotic soundscape is moving in itself, adding poignancy that would be lost if done otherwise.

It is easy to draw comparison to much later films, but it is in La Jetée that the deconstruction of the contained themes is perhaps most pure. A powerful and utterly mesmerising 28 minutes.


Sellers, Simon. 'Retrospecto: La Jetée'. ballardian.com. [online] Available at: http://www.ballardian.com/la-jetee [Accessed 6 Jan. 2016]

Filmslie ‘Chris Marker’s La Jetee Analysis: Mortality and the Illusion of Time’ Filmslie.com [online] Available at: http://filmslie.com/chris-marker-la-jetee-analysis-temporality/ [Accessed 6 Jan. 2016]


Fig 1. La Jetée poster. [image] Available at: http://citygallery.org.nz/sites/default/files/lajetee%20at%20City%20Gallery.jpg [Accessed 6 Jan. 2016]

Fig 2. La Jetée still. [image] Available at: https://allfordeadtime.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/fetch.jpg [Accessed 6 Jan. 2016]

Fig 3. La Jetée still [Image] Available at: https://s3.amazonaws.com/criterion-production/product_images/1505-b2cd0ce10ae50ccaddf336cd797dbd2c/LJ_SS_Page_Still_original.jpg [Accessed 6 Jan. 2016]


  1. Hi Joe,
    A really thoughtful review, well done. It might have been interesting to give your reader a little more information on the sound design element, as you tantalise them by saying it 'shines' but don't go into any more details...
    Also, don't forget that all film names need to be italicized, and the date included after the name (the date only the first time you mention it, but always italicized) You have missed the italics on one quote there too, by Michel Gondry, and the reference is missing too.

    Other than that, it sounds like you really enjoyed this film! Looking forward to reading more from you...

    1. Hey Jackie :)
      Thank you for your words, you are completely right, it's odd that I didn't say much about the sound as I found that to be the best part of the film.