La Jetée (1962) Poster


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Timeless work of art
Superunknovvn7 February 2006
"La jetée" is a million years ahead of its time. To make a movie in 1962 about World War III, time traveling and a distant future that is still genuinely disturbing and not in the least outdated comes close to a miracle.

Here's a short synopsis of the story: After World War III Paris is lying in tatters. The earth has been contaminated and survivors of the war have to live underground imprisoned by the victorious nation (it's never said explicitly which nation that is, but they are talking German). Scientists are looking for a way to secure the survival of mankind by exploring the possibilities of time traveling. In the process one of the prisoners, who has a strong connection to the past because of a recurring dream of his childhood, serves as their guinea pig. As the experiments go on the time traveler falls in love with a woman from the past and comes face to face with the childhood memory he's been obsessed with all his life.

The story might have a familiar ring to you. It's basically the same story Terry Gilliam used in "12 Monkeys". But while "12 Monkeys" is a great movie, ultimately it will be "La jetée" that will stand the test of time (no pun intended). Director/screenwriter Chris Marker's approach is amazingly clever and effective. His movie is a sequence of beautiful black and white photographs with somebody narrating the story. The pictures and the perfect music make the whole thing seem like a documentary on World War II and give the movie a disturbingly realistic feel. Marker never makes the mistake to show too much. The destruction of Paris, the experiments and the future are all hinted at rather vaguely in the pictures and in the narration. A lot is left to our imagination and when The Man, as the main character is simply called, drifts through time it almost seems like a feverish dream to the viewer, too. What's more concrete is the relationship of The Man and The Woman and the contrast between the short untroubled moments The Man spends in the past and his enslavement in the present. Marker concentrates on those aspects and almost shrugs the time traveling off as a negligibility and the result is nothing short of amazing.

With its 26 minutes running time "La jetée" accomplishes more than some epic trilogies do. It remains a classy work of art that looks fresher than any other movie from the 60's that I've ever seen and in 50 years from now it will not have lost any of its appeal, either.
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The most heartbreakingly despairingly romantic science fiction film ever made.
the red duchess31 October 2000
'La Jetee' is a film about movement made up entirely of photographic stills. Well, not entirely. For one transcendent moment the photo moves, ironically at the film's stillest moment, as a woman we have starred at sleeping in the sunny dawn wakes up. It is typical of Marker that a film spanning centuries, millenia, war, torture, experimentation, murder, dreams, time travel, destruction, love, joy, should have as its epiphanical moment an elusive, delusive moment of utter calm, that of a sleeping woman opening her eyes. In a film whose body is the stuff dreams are made on, such a moment is truly cataclysmic.

Like all Marker's masterpieces, 'Jetee', ostensibly a work of science-fiction, is profoundly concerned with Time, Memory and History. Such abstracts treated in lesser hands have a tendency to become vague, airy, removed from life; but Marker, the old leftist, always grounds his philosophy, humanisises and politicises it.

'Jetee', though a short, is rich with ambiguity and irony - the freedom of dreams, to reinvent the past, to escape from circumstances, is exploited by a totalitarian oligarchy, and ultimately fatal for the dreamer. Such is our desperate need to dream, to escape, forget/reinvent, that it is easy to forget that the Man's relationship with the Woman is a phantom, an entire history blown out of a brief glimpse, like that Baudelaire poem where he is stunned by a brief glimpse of a woman he never sees again.

It is this act the tyrants need, this gesture of recreation - by embodying what never happened, by making real or factual what is ultimately desire, he has destroyed history; this paves the way for the vision of 3000, where history is destroyed, and along with it humanity; a Houhnyhm-land of disembodied intelligence. This idea of the death of history, of the victory of post-modernity, would be most eloquently in Marker's chef d'oeuvre, 'Sans Soleil', which was shown with this film at the screening I attended.

But Marker's great achievement here is his creation of the future as a regression, as a descent into medievalism, part-Les Miserables, part-Occupation, with all the signs of French progress and pretension destroyed, with all Haussman's modernity and prosperity run to earth by nuclear contamination, the survivors living in sewers with rats, as their ancestors once did.

Marker's vision is terrifying in its mixture of ruined symmetry and a sickening moral blackness, the general silence punctuated by impenetrable whispers and noises - this is one of the most frightening soundtracks I've ever heard. This medievalism also means a bypassing of the intellect, of literal Enlightenment, and back to a kind of spiritual murk, with pastiche sacred music flooding the film, and parodies of religious kitsch obtruding (the godlike light seeping into dense interiors; religious slogans; the compositions of survivors like beatified saints) on the relics of civilisation, the graffiti, the now-impenetrable codes.

This chaos is contrasted with the Paris of the dream, especially in the museum scene, even more chilling with its statues looking like petrified relics from a volcanic disaster; the mute, stuffed animals warning humans of their fate; the exquisite composition of architecture, trapping the couple in a web of order, boxes, classification, obsolescence, the doomed attempts by mankind to order the universe.

yet this dream is so moving because it offers love, connection, gardens, talk, dreams, Paris, even if they are illusory. because, although this is a dense, difficult, allusive, modern film, it also illuminates a simple, ancient truth 'In the midst of life, we are in death'. As Morrissey once responded, 'Etcetera'.
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Two viewings 30 years apart
rclusso30 May 2003
I first saw "La Jetee" in an introductory journalism class in the spring of 1973. The class was large, so large, in fact, that it was held in an auditorium rather than a conventional classroom. But when the film ended, there was about 30 seconds of stone-silence before the murmuring began. I sat slack-jawed and stunned and looked at Mary Ann, a girl who sat next to me and who I was slowly becoming friends with, to check her reaction. She looked equally stunned.

Thirty years have passed and I have occasionally revisited that moment. Despite wanting to know Mary Ann better, I was too timid and never saw her again after that semester ended and despite being stunned by the film, for some reason, I had lost track of its title. All I remembered was a haunting scene at an airport with a guy wearing glasses. That was it.

Just the other day and for no reason at all, I remembered the title "La Jetee" out of the blue. The name just popped into my head. And, even stranger, when I was checking the TV listings earlier today, I found that "La Jetee" was being shown on the Sundance Channel later.

I just finished watching it and I am as slack-jawed and stunned as I was thirty years ago. I guess the next logical thing will be to hear from Mary Ann. Just so long as I don't have to meet her at the airport.
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A unique, powerful and visually stunning experimental film
tsmiljan16 February 2001
If you can find this rare film, you must see it. Unique in film history, this experimental short film consists of a series of still shots tied together by narration. It is the story of a post-apocalyptic Earth and time travel. Each still shot is a work of art, and the plot is compelling. A man with a strong memory of a past event witnessed as a small child (a person being shot at an airport), is periodically sent back into that pre-war period by "experimenters" with devious purposes. While visiting the past, the hero falls in love with a woman from that past.

Watch for the one and only scene that contains any movement and natural sounds (birds in the background, while the woman wakes up next to her lover). Coming in the midst of the relentless still shots, it is one of the most sublime moments in all cinema. You are doing yourself a disservice if you do not see this film.
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dbdumonteil12 March 2004
In 1995, Terry Gilliam made one of the finest movies in the nineties: "Twelve Monkeys". To explain how he made this awesome movie, he openly declared that he drew his inspiration from a French short film: "La Jetée". It is true that the 2 opus have similarities: both present a devastated earth caused by man's madness, survivors who take refuge in underground rooms and try to improve their grueling living conditions and especially both feature a jaded and manipulated main character.

A short film that is a reflection about time, happiness and love, entirely composed of static shots, "la jetée" is a powerful and mesmerizing work and it may appear as a cornerstone in French cinema. 42 years after its release, it kept all its strength and has not aged a bit. The quality of the editing, the photography and the commentary add to the success of Chris Marker's work.

Highly recommended and the influence of Chris Marker's short film on "Twelve Monkeys" shows well a thing: French cinema inspired a great number of American movies.
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Brief moments, frozen in time
ThreeSadTigers16 March 2008
La Jettée (1962) is not only the most important work of science-fiction cinema since Fritz Lang's masterwork Metropolis (1927), but is also one of the most staggering achievements in the entire history of film. Here, filmmaker Chris Marker presents the audience with the ultimate cinematic dystopia; a futuristic, industrialised landscape of underground tunnels, colourless streets and jarring 60's architecture. The results are beautiful yet somewhat anachronistic, as the filmmaker employs a similar approach to that of Godard in Alphaville (1965) - or more recently, Winterbottom's Code 46 (2003) - albeit, with a less straightforward attitude to plot and ideology.

The basic narrative outline of the film is built around various reflective layers - similar to what Tarkovsky would use in his later film, Mirror (1975) - which allow Marker to create a certain feeling of mirroring between the notions of fact and fiction, life and death, reality and fantasy and so on. This, in turn, further develops the characters and the world of which they inhabit. The reason the film works without becoming a cold, lifeless lecture is because it anchors the images of nuclear holocaust and scientific exploration within humanistic characters and a sense of unashamed romanticism. But this is only one part of an elaborate puzzle; lest we forget that we are dealing with certain narrative paradoxes, not to mention an assortment of linear and non-linear story elements each unfolding simultaneously. Just when we think we've got the whole film worked out, our perspectives immediately change, and our ideas are lost in the blink of an eye.

However, aside from thematic visual palindromes, what is most remarkable about La Jettée - and the reason it has retained its reputation as a work of genius - is the way in which Marker manages to relate his story of travel and movement through the use of still images. By presenting these pictures to us in a sort of photo-montage - complete with brooding voice-over and various sound effects - the director somehow manages to bring the stillness of his film miraculously to life. It is, without question, a work of pure, unadulterated imagination, and a staggering testament to Marker's genius ability to convey a multitude of feelings, ideas and emotions, through a series of simple, static, though nonetheless, deeply evocative images.
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Enigmatic and thought provoking
howard.schumann10 February 2003
Warning: Spoilers
The Third World War is over. Paris has been destroyed. The Earth is no longer habitable. People cluster in underground caves as scientists conduct experiments. The film explains, "The only hope for survival lay in time: a hole in time through which to send food, medicines, sources of energy. The aim of the experiments was to send emissaries into time to summon the past and the future to the aid of the present." A man (Davos Hanich) "volunteers" because he is haunted by an image from his childhood. In his mind he sees a woman (Helene Chatelain) standing at the edge of a jetty at the Orly Airport while a man runs toward her… a shot rings out…the man falls…dying. The volunteer travels back in time, then forward, then back again. Images morph into one another, haunting, frightening. It is over in 29 minutes.

Using black and white still photography (except for one shot) and a voice-over narration, Chris Marker's 1962 film, La Jetee, is one of the most enigmatic and thought provoking science fiction films ever made. The film takes us into the mind of a man and looks at memory, loss, dreams, and destiny. Sent back to try to save the human race, he and the woman meet again. He sees the world as it was before the war: with "real children", "a real bedroom", and "real birds". The narrator speaks: "They are without memories, without plans. Time builds itself painlessly around them. Their only landmarks are the flavor of the moment they are living and the markings on the walls." They fall in love. She calls him "my ghost". Is this happening only in his mind or is he reassembling the past? They go for walks and to a strange museum filled with mounted representations of extinct animals. Then it stops.

Having perfected their technique, the scientists now send the man into the future. Human beings have regained the Earth. He tells his story to them. The future beings give him a power supply to take back to restart humanity's industries. Now he is expendable, he suspects he is going to be killed. The people from the future visit him, offering a sanctuary in their own time. Instead, he chooses to go back in time to the woman he loves, and then meets his strange destiny in a moment of dark beauty that will remain with you forever.
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Extremely Effective in its Subtlety.
myphx24 September 2005
The first time I saw this movie it was on a local educational TV channel (PBS was barely starting) in 1969. I was a youngster and it made such an indelible impression that I remembered it all these years. Luckily, to my surprise I discovered a copy recently at a video rental store.

The movie is only approximately 30 minutes in length and is composed of black and white still photography (except for one scene, where they show a mans eye blinking). It is a powerful depiction of the end of the world, human love and memory. The French narration adds to the poetic subtlety and drama. To my dismay, I heard there was a new DVD version available, but with English narration. Hopefully, the original French version will be made available, as it seems to add so much more to the dramatic effect of the movie.

To the average movie viewer, this film would be best described as avant-garde in nature. It is a prime example of how science fiction and drama can be produced with nuance and subtleties, rather than overuse of technological effects and gratuitous titillation and violence.
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experimental, elegaic, profound, beautiful, and mysterious
pyamada19 November 2002
This is one of the most stunning short films ever made. Marker has pieced together an oblique, sci-fi setting for marvelous still photography; when there is movement, it is a cause for joy! Everyone who is a cineast should see this film: it's that good and it's that important!
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Chicken or the Egg?
thefensk26 October 2002
I note that most of the comments I've seen have been written by people who saw 12 Monkeys first and then chose somehow to see La Jetee.

Comparisons are useless beyond the basic feel of the story.

When I first saw 12 Monkeys I didn't know its relationship to La Jetee, a film I had not seen in 25 years. Yet, I recognized this relationship almost immediately, even though I could not remember the name of the movie. This I realized through the feel of the story ... down to the very end.

In many ways the short film was much more stimulating ... even though I had forgotten the name of the film I had never forgotten the images or the impressions it made upon me. I guess that's strange, but as I recall I saw it at Rice University as a part of a film festival back in the 60s.

Granted, films must sustain themselves somewhat through the years to maintain their value as true art, but one must always remember the context of the film's original audience.

I wonder now if the dependence on stills to portray the story had any influence on Ken Burns? Heh ... he's made a reputation on the same technique.

My point ... accept both movies on their own merits.
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Chillingly controlled to stick in the mind.
Polaris_DiB6 September 2005
One way movies tend to be memorable is when a certain image they create is so powerful it sticks right into the mind and refuses to leave. This is a film created to do just that, and one method is to remove a level of the motion to create haunting images that stay static on the screen until they're burned on the cornea. Memory, however, is not just visual, and as if the film needed any help, the disturbingly saturated music and sound helps implant everything in this movie until it's not to be forgotten.

A man is haunted throughout his life by the image of a beautiful woman, and the death he witnessed after seeing her. Soon afterward, a bomb hits Paris and sends the survivors scurrying underground to survive nuclear fall-out. A scientist then uses the man's clinging focus on the past memory of the beauty and death to send him through time to try to prevent the bomb.

This is not a movie that needs to be remarked upon by saying, "Every frame is like a photograph!" because every frame is a photograph. However, it keeps away from being considered merely a slide-show by the emotive use of sound and narration and the surreal look into time and memory, a look that's quite adequate for truly representing the sort of imbalance and dizziness that would be created by time-travel. It recreates the sort of objective detail of memories wherein the movement through space and time is certainly recognized as your own, but your inability to control it since it's already been done makes you sort of an outside spectator to your own actions. That, I believe, is the focus that drives this narrative along and it's done so well, it's difficult to imagine anyone not being sucked into it.

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Back to the Past
aciessi10 September 2015
"La Jette" is a strange short film, that many are familiar to the fact that it inspired the Terry Gilliam film "12 Monkeys". It centers on the hypothetical aftermath of World War III. It is assumed that the world had been scorched by nuclear weaponry, as we see a young man strapped down and blindfolded by a group of ominous scientists in an underground refuge. What the man is being subjected to is a time machine that sends him back to the time, and his mission is to collect goods, and send them back to the present day in order to feed the survivors of the war. He is sent back to the near moment when his life ended, and all he remembers seeing is a strikingly beautiful young woman, standing over a pier while an unknown man falls to his death. Instead of following orders, the man stalks the female throughout the city of Paris, in order to figure out why he remembers her, and what significance she has to him before the bomb hit. What happens is quite lovely actually. You see, the man begins to talk to the young woman, and they begin a pleasant Parisian love affair. Needless to say, this makes the underground scientists none too pleased. For several times over, the scientists keep sending the man back to the beginning of the time warp in order to complete the mission, only for the man to keep pursuing the young lady every time. The two inter-dimensional lovebirds even manage to squeeze in a museum visit, where they gaze at the wonders of the animal kingdom. Hey, even in a time warp, you have to stop and smell the roses. After many attempts, the scientists play a trick and send the young man to a strange, scary future that warns him of the consequences of a malnourished society. The people where black clothing, and stare deeply into his eyes. Do you think that would scare him into doing the right thing? Of course not! He's got to get the girl. Angry about his failure, the scientists bring him back to the past, to meet the girl, only to have him assassinated by another time traveler. In the end, he suffered the exact same fate as the man he saw before the war. He was the fallen man from his own past.

All this is shown in glorious frames per second… no not 24, just frames. Like a slideshow gone horribly wrong, the story progresses through images, which coincide with the fact that Marker himself is an acclaimed photographer. Does it even matter in the end? Not for me. I was deeply invested in every moment of this great short film. As a matter of fact, in the genre of Science Fiction, I don't think I've ever seen a finer film. Marker masterfully places fear in the hearts of his viewers. Whatever future we have to look forward to, it looks awfully bleak for Marker. There is nothing to look forward to, but the imminent arrival of a nuclear holocaust. As with many films in tune with "Nouvelle Vague", the politics are visibly liberal. "La Jette" is an early anti-war picture. In the wake of WWII, and the arms race happening in Europe, Marker constructed a film that allowed us to think about the social and physical implications of nuclear war. In the process, he allows an intimate look at the past, and how our main character, keeps trying to hang onto it as long as he can, for tomorrow is hopeless. The woman he seeks is in itself, a metaphor for peace and good memories. Good memories are precious, and beautiful, and visceral. When you think about good memories, you want to plant yourself back in time and relive them. We sympathize with our main character, and we feel for him when he dies in the end. I believe the moral of it all is to remember what thrived before, and try to prevent what this film tried to envision for our future, which consists of nothing.
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Moments to Last a Lifetime
zolaaar1 March 2010
A masterpiece of the highest order. If there's anything like perfection, this short film would be the epitome of it, at least in the cinematic sense. Marker's only fictional story in his career is told not through moving pictures, but stills that are sorted and superimposed. It is a necessary stylisation to give the film this unique power and enchantment that it has. It's a science-fiction story after all, and its documentary look, through-composed as a sequence of snapshots in a figurative photo album, makes it much more reliable.

Another thing: when the protagonist remembers a photograph that he has seen in his youth, we, the viewers, are facing a similar puzzle of pictures. La jetée leaves us forming a formulated, living universe, similar to the protagonist who defines his whole purpose in life out of one single impression. He lives and feels only through the knowledge of this important picture which has such an enormous, spectacular effect on his puerile soul, so that he even develops the ability to travel through time and space to liven up his memories and make that one photograph tangible for him. So, with the plot in mind, there's absolutely no other choice to tell the story than in this way. And this way is peerlessly productive and effective, formally poetic, reflexive and a perfect dream.

There's especially one particular moment, that I'm sure will go along with me for the rest of my life: when the beloved girl seems to blink her eye at us (me?) and exposes a smile. Marker uses only frozen single pictures of her, but in this very shot he shares a deeply moving, genuine, vibrant moment of happiness and affection with us in an ultimate profession of love to the art of film and love itself. It is probably one of the greatest, most emotional moments in the history of cinema. Art to be meant to last forever. (10/10)
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Poetic and visually stunning, but overrated
JamesKLambert26 November 1999
Warning: Spoilers
This one is worth seeing by anyone interested in still photography, time travel stories, or good cinema in general. But because I am a big fan of 12 Monkeys' brilliance I was a little disappointed in this original story.


My biggest problem with La Jetee is that it is not great science fiction, it is an intellectual cop out and could be better labeled as `fantasy.' In La Jetee a man from the near future is chosen to go back into the past to get items necessary for human survival after a nuclear war. He is selected because of his strong memories and obsessive dreams about the past. The scientists are able to amplify these dreams in a way that allows him to enter the past. It is far fetched, but those are the rule it sets up and I as the viewer was willing to accept them. The plot problem comes in when they decide to send him into the far future. How is this possible? He has no memories of the future for the scientists to latch onto. The film breaks its own scientific reasoning, which breaks my suspension of disbelieve, and tells me that the writer got sloppy. Worse, the idea of going into the far future, because if they are there they must have found a way to survive, therefore they can save us so they can be born, is so much illogical nonsense as to be childish. This is a clear sign of writer's block. La Jetee got its hero into a situation that it did not know how to get out of, so it decides to call on the hand of God (the far future people) to solve the problem. Whenever you introduce previously unknown and all-powerful characters late in the story it is an obvious script failure. This offers no opportunity for your character to grow, to sink or swim on their own, and leaves the audience feeling gypped. Hamlet should regain his father's kingdom or bring down everyone around him in his maddening quest – you don' t have the Virgin Mary suddenly appear, give him back his sanity, and put him on the throne. It's just not good writing. 12 Monkeys corrects La Jetee's error by never going into the far future, while also added more details that pull everything together in a more intelligent manor. In La Jetee the main character's actions has nothing to do with the nuclear war, but the main character's actions in 12 Monkeys are an integral part of the virus that almost wipes out the human race. This is a far superior plot.

I fear that what most `high-minded' people are judging La Jetee on is the fact that it is French. Just as many Americans would never see a foreign film, other Americans would never dare believe that Hollywood could ever do anything right. You can see the obvious slant one way or the other in so many reviews of 12 Monkeys, La Jetee, and other films. But the fatal flaw of La Jetee can not be wiped clean just because it is big in `artistic' circles. It was a wonderful idea that was later improved upon.
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The evidence why there are no more photo novels for the screen Warning: Spoilers
It simply is not working as this is, by definition, not a "motion picture". "La jetée" or "The Pier" is a black-and-white film that runs for slightly under 30 minutes and is over 50 years old now. The writer and director is Chris Marker. Do not be confused by his name for he is as French as this half hour in terms of narration and style. There are references about human experiments, time travel, ruins and the usual components like love, war and death. The way this is made, namely a collection of photos, is probably the main reason why I was not impressed at all. The love story did not touch me and I was not sad when I found out that he is not gonna see her again as his next travels will be to the future. His death at the end felt really rushed as well. i was fairly disappointed with it. The format has proved unappealing enough and that is why directors these days just do normal movies and not photo book stuff like this. Not recommended unless you became curious about it after watching "12 Monkeys".
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like watching paint dry
cherold3 March 2015
This is one of these movies you wind up watching in film classes, and it's considered a great classic. Unfortunately, it's pretty tedious.

It is essentially an illustrated sci-fi short story made up (almost) entirely of still images. This is an admittedly original approach to movie making, but not an especially engaging process.

While leisurely told, the real issue for me with the film is it's not a very good sci-fi story. I was immersed from childhood in science-fiction (my dad taught a college literature course devoted to it) and the story struck me as trite and predictable. Admittedly, I saw it 20 years after it came out (in the 1970s), so the story might have seemed more original at the time, but all-in-all this is sub-par Twilight Zone fare given artistic appeal through it's presentation.

There is one stunning moment in the movie, and it's such an interesting moment (you'll know it when you see it), and one that is only possible if the film is made just as it is, then arguably it's a good thing for a film student to see. But it's very dull.
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Thirteen Monkeys
tedg31 March 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

I wish I had seen this before "Twelve Monkeys." Except for "Fear and Loathing," Gilliam is artless (but reflexive). This is much more clever in how its manner (single images) reflects its story (how registration of images in the memory can fold time).

Its a master stroke in storytelling. Haunting, something close to radio. The characters become internalized in our own imagination as if we were traveling in time for a visit.

This is one of the roots of the family tree of science fiction films, especially those derived from Phil Dick stories. Good science fiction is about observation and who is the observer. The cleverness in this project is that the `viewer' invents most of the reality: the viewer makes a story about a viewer who views himself.

Ted's evaluation: 4 of 4 -- every cineliterate person should experience this.
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Still Life
peapulation18 November 2008
I had never seen such an original film that works so well. The artist with no budget decides to make a film that could have appealed to the commercial masses. That is what is scary about it. It's the kind of story that we would consider "blockbuster gold". A journey through time, sci-fi, and romance. And yet, it requires no special effects, it requires no big budget. Marker laughs right at the face of conventional cinema and uses stills to let out imagination read between the lines.

Is this fiction? Yes, to some extent. The post-apocalyptic story that it recounts would make Waterworld blush with embarrassment, true. But once again, the arty film looks at us to find a meaning for the story. At the end of the day, are we more taken aback by the technical aspect in which Marker engages, or by the shocking finale. Would the finale have been so shocking had Marker used a Bolex camera? I fear not. The bit where he's running towards the girl in the end feels like an average nightmare, where you're running, but you can't get to wherever you want to get to. It's a feeling we have all felt, and the lack of movement within the frame conveys a certain feeling of helplessness and entrapment that could only have been achieved this well with stills.

And we must say, these stills are amazing. It's not only the elaborate mise-en-scene, or the design of the sets and the props (the french sci-fi glasses are extraordinary). It's also the placement of the camera, that has a ghostly versatility that often adds to the lack of comfort of the restless characters.

I must also give a shout for the score that is amazing, which is strange if we count that your average experimental film hardly ever employs such "cinematic" scores, always going for the more minimalist (and generally less expansive) ones.
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G_a_l_i_n_a3 November 2015
Warning: Spoilers
La jetée (1961) aka The Pier is one of the best, poignant, and most unusual films ever made. The 28 minutes long collection of unbelievably rich, mesmerizing, still black and white images accompanied with the mourning score and sparse narration look inside your very soul while you look at them and they talk to you and reach to all your senses. This is correct - the film used a photo-montage technique but once stated watching, I was so enthralled that I did not think about technical part. The film is simple, poetic, philosophical, and profound. It is an anti war/post-apocalyptic science fiction documentary style and at the same time the ode to love, longing, and to power of memory.

Here is the paradox - how can documentary, made of the still black and white images tell the story that would influence every following film about time travel and be the true feast for mind and soul? Well, it has happened in La jetée, and while watching you forget what genre the movie belongs to because it defies the definitions of genres, and you just don't want it to end even though you know from the beginning that this movie will never have a happy ending. Like millions of fascinated viewers I ask myself how that much was achieved with so little. Like an unnamed protagonist of La jetée is marked for life with an unforgettable image from his childhood, the viewer is marked with the still images of the film, especially by only one animated image of awakening in the film that comes like a miracle.

I finished earlier this evening re-watching Terry Gilliam's excellent film Twelve Monkeys (1995) for which La jetée was the inspiration. Now when I saw both, I am sure that if it were not for the unspeakably sad, beautiful and moving short film of Chris Marker that suggests that "calling past and future may save the present" and provides the extraordinary emotional impact with the story of return to the most vivid childhood memories again and again, there would be no brilliant and dark visions of Twelve Monkeys. Both films are glorious in their unique way and should be viewed together to be appreciated fully.
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Bad Mixture - Between Photo and Film
felixjueterbock23 February 2013
I don't want to say that this movie was totally crappy and should definitely not be seen. It IS interesting to watch for people who are interested in film history, in that what we call "Avantgarde", or experimental movies, with an interesting thought behind it. This is "La Jetée", but it is nothing more. Definitely it is no masterpiece, I wouldn't even call it art, because it is such a "mess", like someone said before me. I'll tell you the reason for my negative opinion.

First, it should be obvious that there are undoubted differences between still pictures and moving ones, in their structure as in their way of "telling" something. So if you put some photos together, all you get is a boring, poetically uninteresting movie. Alright, so it's not meant to be a film at all but a "photo-novel". First, then you could print it, make a book out of it, with pictures and a text. Why did Marker choose to make it as a movie? I don't know and it is really not important. The problem is, that the photos shown in this, as it is some kind of flowing pictures I'll rather call it like the following, movie are really put to a confusing mix. If there is a picture, showing the typical structure of a photo, the next one seems to be a single still photo, taking from an actually continuing movie. So neither could you call it an arrangement of good photos nor a good movie, as still pictures with the mise en scene, the maybe poetic, but in any case specific structure of a movie, have no life, no importance, they are just insignificant! It's like taking one single tone out of a symphony. It can not live without the rest, the work of art as a whole. So seeing this confusing mix, as I called it, I couldn't think of it as one thing, never mind what it is meant to be, I couldn't see it as a unified piece of work, not to speak of art. That's the first reason why I would go so far to call it a failed experiment.

The second is the plot which, in my opinion, tells too much of this kind of aftermath, a thing which we have seen in enough other movies. Maybe not at the point of its release, but art should always be relevant, doesn't it? The story of this man is pretty interesting, and the end also seemed really good, not only in comparison to the rest of the movie but in comparison to this man, his story, taking away from the rest of the film. Anyway, my point was the style of putting photos together, not the plot.

I am sorry for accusing the movie of such a bad way of making, as Chris Marker was kind of an interesting man, as it seems. I have to confess that I didn't watch any other movies/documentaries of him, but what I saw in "La Jetée" is enough to tell of him as a man with only good intentions, I guess. And that's why I give 6 points, to emphasize it as better than things like "Avatar".
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I see almost nothing to recommend this film.
imdb-com-18922 January 2005
First off, I am no "film guru" or "student" of what-have-you. I am just a guy that likes movies, especially sci-fi movies. This is the first time I have been "inspired" to write a review here.

I wanted to see La Jetee because 12 Monkeys is a favorite of mine. The buzz is that not only is La Jetee the inspiration for 12 Monkeys but a great film in its own right; maybe better that 12 Monkeys; the closest approach of film to poetry . . . Nah

What I saw was an interesting sci-fi premise delivered in an amateurish and boring fashion. A flat voice delivers the essentials of the story with all the excitement of the 6th page of your local newspaper accompanied by unexceptional stills of people and places. No character development, no emotion to speak of, not much of anything but the aforementioned interesting premise that Terry Gilliam used as a springboard for a great movie.

I give this one a "2".

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After all the hype, I expected better than this
shengyang30 April 2003
Warning: Spoilers
As a fan of fantastical and surreal cinema from the silent era, I really expected to like La Jetee, a tale of time-travel and memory told through narrated photographs. However, I found the movie to be more interesting as a concept on paper than on the screen. The idea of using a montage of photos is a rather good one. Unfortunately the photos that Marker actually uses turn out to be pretty bland, and he repeats them far too often, and cuts between images too quickly and regularly. Particularly irritating were the constantly reappearing shots of the prisoner/time-traveller with electrodes over his eyes as he undergoes experiments. It is not a bad image when it first appears, but it gets a little boring by its 50th appearance. I wish more thought had gone into the photography and more variation had been introduced into the editing.

While I know that the film is intended to be somewhat open-ended, one loose end in the narrative bothered me. Why did the scientists go to all the bother of killing the time-traveller at the end? Under the hypothesis that the time-travel was real, it was surely a costly waste of time for the scientists to chase the time-traveller down and shoot him. Under the alternative hypothesis that the time-travel was imagined or else purely a mental phenomenon, the scientists would then have killed the time-traveller relatively simply and costlessly by giving him, say, an injection of poison, so the shooting at the airport would be merely the time-traveller's imagination at work before he dies. However, if this latter explanation is the case, then the final airport scene is robbed of all its pathos, since the time-traveller-as-a-young-boy at the airport does not in fact witness his own adult death. Under this explanation, the shooting is imaginary and the presence of the boy is imaginary. I'm not sure there exists a satisfactory way to explain or motivate the ending of the film. But maybe future viewer comments can enlighten me.
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Excellent idea, but not very powerfully put across
bleees1 September 2002
The plot to this short film is nothing short of brilliant, but its a shame its execution was a lot poorer. 12 Monkeys, which used this film as a basis, had much better vision, and allowed you to empathise with the characters so much more. The final few scenes in 12 Monkeys are haunting, and absolutely perfect, but in this film, the ending almost seems like an anticlimax to an already unexciting film.

I'm not sure why so many people revere this film so much, maybe it's just too many people want to like it because it's French, and 'artistic' in its black and white still frame portrayal.
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Greatest Experimental Film I've Seen
drb03e5 March 2004
Unlike most people I know, I saw "La Jetee" before I saw "12 Monkeys." Although I enjoyed Gilliam's perspective, Chris Marker was incredible in his conception and direction. Not just a great story, it was interesting to see the technique he used. Whether or not he was the first to use the still frame narration technique, I don't know. I would dare to say that it hasn't been done better. The black and white still frames let the image linger in the mind . . . in fact, he reuses certain images repeatedly, as in the time travel sequences. Marker's idea that dreams are the key to time travel, or at least unlocking the past, was novel to me. Through the main character's vivid dreams, he is able to go back in time to try and stop the onset of WWIII. During the course of his task, he falls in love with a girl. This creates a conflict because he wants to stay, which is impossible. The resolution in the movie is one that I don't want to give away, but this is a must see for science fiction lovers and experimental lovers the same.
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When pointlessness becomes the point.
pro_crustes9 January 2002
Like everyone who liked "12 Monkeys" and who was lied to about "La Jetee" as its inspiration, I found this movie and killed a short span of my life by watching it. It makes no sense, no matter what the black-berets tell you. It's a random collection of stills, intended to make you think you can fool your neighbors into believing you are deep by nodding your head at the monotone soundtrack, as though you felt something profound were reaching only you, but not them.

I've watched B's, Z's, 8mm's, and even real slide shows in my pursuit of all things SF. This one comes in at the bottom ten or less, for being total crap. If you see it because you saw "12 Monkeys" and care about its purported origins, I'll forgive you. If you see it and claim it was any good, that your understood it, or even that there was any worse way to waste your time, I'll forgive you only if you promise to get therapy in the morning.
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