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La Jetée



You know you haven’t studied International Cinema without visiting the Chris Marker classic La Jetée. Made in 1962 the film follows the aftermath of World War III as the surviving humans start testing time travel on prisoners in order to send them back to save the world from destruction. What makes this film stand out from the rest of cinema is that it is shot through black and white still images. While this is not the first movie to do this it still is in such a unique style and flair that it is revered as a masterpiece and rightfully so.

The film has a very dark and gritty feel to it which perfectly matches the aftermath of any war; here the aftermath of the war to end all wars. We see the destruction of ruins of the world, Marker using pictures from World War II, and then we move underground where the surviving humans are (supposedly to escape radiation). We learn quickly that scientists are conducting experiments on humans and the film shot by shot brings our protagonist through he whole experience. Where Chris Marker works his magic is in two fold: the lighting and the fluidity of the film.

The lighting is amazingly shot here making great use of shadows, darkness, and faces to create an eerie and trapped feeling. From just looking at shots individually we can tell the horror that has happened in the world and the hopelessness of their situation. Then the fluidity of the film is quite impressive. Even though the whole film is shot by photographs edited together, the audience slowly but surely begins to feel like the characters are moving. The editing and sound is combined with the pictures to create the feeling of movement in our minds. We forget that we are watching pictures for a while.

Though the overall themes are what carry this film: The dangers of tyranny and the inescapable past. As we reach the end of the film, our protagonist getting a better control of time travel, he has fallen in love with a woman and wishes to be with her. As people from the future time travellers contact him offering him freedom, he only asks to be with his love. He then appears at the airport he remembers as a child, a vivid memory that has been in his mind for years. As he runs to the end of the jetty he notices an agent from the scientists that have been experimenting him and is shot. The man he saw shot as a kid was himself. It is a great twist that you never really see coming and fits into the inescapable past idea. Our protagonist will never be able to escape the scientists that have trapped him. The world will never be able to escape World War III and that your fate is set and locked. Nothing you can do will change it. A little pessimistic but a great theme that is worth exploring.

Overall I adore the look and feel of this film. The soundtrack, narration, and even little whispers all play their part in the film. The story is brilliant and it is beautifully told. Enjoy the Vertigo reference in it as well as realizing that 12 Monkeys is based entirely on this.


Hello! I am William McAbee. I do my fair share of reviews from time to time and I tweet like there is no tomorrow! I work currently as a video editor and producer.

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