La Jetée

La Jetée ★★★★★

An exquisite evocation of memory and imagination, of hiding with thoughts of a special person, as escape from an intolerable present dystopia.

In an apocalyptic post-war future, the hero is subjected to medical experiments by authorities who are trying to create time travel: he is chosen because of his especially vivid memories of a lovely woman he saw at the airport before the outbreak of war.

He is strapped down, injected, blindfolded - outwardly it has overtones of torture - but his mind is elsewhere, meeting her. For as long as those in charge allow this phase of the experiment, anyway.

Twelve Monkeys was based on this, but the beauty and brevity of La Jetée is such that I would always, always choose it over the Gilliam film, even if that is more thoughtful than 95% of Bruce Willis movies. The brief scenes of the future-people the man meets on his other mind voyages appear to prefigure The Matrix too.

Chris Marker's use of still black and white photographic images, pausing on screen for a while, or succeeding one another rapidly, is a heartwrenching recreation of the actual experience of memory: of how love and trauma, and the very best and very worst events, live as pictures in freeze-frame. Also of the stop-start nature of imagination, sometimes moving, sometimes dwelling, when trying to concentrate and conjure, fact or fiction. It feels so very much more like real thinking than any film I've ever seen.

And this version (I must find out which it was) had subtitles so delicate I had to write some down: "images begin to ooze like confessions" ... "Time builds itself painlessly around them. Their only landmarks are the flavour of the moment they are living, and the marking on the walls." ... "on countless walks in which an unspoken trust, an unadulterated trust, will grow between them without memories or plans." They would be worthy of reading as a story unto themselves.

And to think it only got on to my list because it was on the same disc as Sans Soleil ... La Jetée is entirely fulfilling in itself. And it was only today - can't remember where - that I found out this was a short. I'm very grateful to whoever posted that list or link which prompted me to watch it just now. Twice.

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