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.