La Jetée (French pronunciation: [la ʒəte]) ("The Jetty", here referring to the publicly accessible top of an infrastructural pier or jetty at an airport) is a 1962 French Left Bank science fiction featurette by Chris Marker. Constructed almost entirely from still photos, it tells the story of a post-nuclear war experiment in time travel. It is 28 minutes long and shot in black and white.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Chris Marker|
|Produced by||Anatole Dauman|
|Written by||Chris Marker|
|Narrated by||Jean Négroni|
|Music by||Trevor Duncan|
|Edited by||Jean Ravel|
|Distributed by||Argos Films|
It won the Prix Jean Vigo for short film. The 1995 science fiction film 12 Monkeys was inspired by and borrows several concepts directly from La Jetée, as does the 2015 12 Monkeys television series developed from the film.
A man (Davos Hanich) is a prisoner in the aftermath of World War III in post-apocalyptic Paris, where survivors live underground in the Palais de Chaillot galleries. Scientists research time travel, hoping to send test subjects to different time periods "to call past and future to the rescue of the present". They have difficulty finding subjects who can mentally withstand the shock of time travel. The scientists eventually settle upon the prisoner; his key to the past is a vague but obsessive memory from his pre-war childhood of a woman (Hélène Chatelain) he had seen on the observation platform ("the jetty") at Orly Airport shortly before witnessing a startling incident there. He did not understand exactly what happened, but knew he had seen a man die.
After several attempts, he reaches the pre-war period. He meets the woman from his memory, and they develop a romantic relationship. After his successful passages to the past, the experimenters attempt to send him into the far future. In a brief meeting with the technologically advanced people of the future, he is given a power unit sufficient to regenerate his own destroyed society.
Upon his return, with his mission accomplished, he discerns that he is to be executed by his jailers. He is contacted by the people of the future, who offer to help him escape to their time permanently; but he asks instead to be returned to the pre-war time of his childhood, hoping to find the woman again. He is returned to the past, placed on the jetty at the airport, and it occurs to him that the child version of himself is probably also there at the same time. He is more concerned with locating the woman, and quickly spots her. However, as he rushes to her, he notices an agent of his jailers who has followed him and realizes the agent is about to kill him. In his final moments, he comes to understand that the incident he witnessed as a child, which has haunted him ever since, was his own death.
La Jetée is constructed almost entirely from optically printed photographs playing out as a photomontage of varying rhythm. It contains only one brief shot (of the woman mentioned above sleeping and suddenly waking up) originating on a motion-picture camera, this due to the fact that Marker could only afford to hire one for an afternoon. The stills were taken with a Pentax Spotmatic and the motion-picture segment was shot with a 35 mm Arriflex. The film has no dialogue aside from small sections of muttering in German and people talking in an airport terminal. The story is told by a voice-over narrator. The scene in which the hero and the woman look at a cut-away trunk of a tree is a reference to Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 film Vertigo which Marker also references in his 1983 film Sans soleil.
In Black and Blue, her study of postwar French fiction, Carol Mavor describes La Jetée as taking "place in a no-place (u-topia) in no-time (u-chronia)" which she connects to the time and place of the fairy tale. She goes on to say "even the sound of the title resonates with the fairy-tale surprise of finding oneself in another world: La Jetée evokes 'là j'étais' (there I was)". By "u-topia", Mavor does not refer to "utopia" as the word is commonly used; she also describes an ambiguity of dystopia/utopia in the film: "It is dystopia with the hope of utopia, or is it utopia cut by the threat of dystopia."
Tor Books blogger Jake Hinkson summed up his interpretation in the title of an essay about the film, "There's No Escape Out of Time". He elaborated:
What [the main character] finds ... is that the past is never as simple as we wish it to be. To return to it is to realize that we never understood it. He also finds–and here it is impossible to miss Marker's message for his viewers–a person cannot escape from their own time, anyway. Try as we might to lose ourselves, we will always be dragged back into the world, into the here and now. Ultimately, there is no escape from the present.
Hinkson also addresses the symbolic use of imagery: "The Man is blindfolded with some kind of padded device and he sees images. The Man is chosen for this assignment because ... he has maintained a sharp mind because of his attachment to certain images. Thus a film told through the use of still photos becomes about looking at images." He further observes that Marker himself did not refer to La Jetée as a film, but as photo novel.
In 2010, Time ranked La Jetée first in its list of "Top 10 time-travel movies". In 2012, in correspondence with the Sight & Sound Poll, the British Film Institute deemed La Jetée as the 50th greatest film of all time.
The 2003 short film La puppé is both an homage to and a parody of La Jetée.
The 2007 Mexican film Year of the Nail, which is told entirely through still photographs, was inspired by La Jetée.
Northern Irish rock band Two Door Cinema Club screened the film at the launch party for their 2016 album Gameshow. The final track on the album, "Je viens de la", is inspired by La Jetée and describes the journey of the film's protagonist.
In 1996, Zone Books released a book which reproduced the film's original images along with the script in both English and French.
Home media releaseEdit
In Region 2, the film is available with English subtitles in the La Jetée/Sans soleil digipack released by Arte Video. In Region 1, the Criterion Collection has released a La Jetée/Sans soleil combination DVD / Blu-ray, which features the option of hearing the English or French narration.
- "Entretien avec Antoine Bonfanti, Cadrage 2004". Cadrage.net. Archived from the original on 4 July 2009. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
- "De l'autre côté du miroir" (in French). Archived from the original on 1 July 2007. Retrieved 8 January 2008.
- "On Vertigo", special feature on the Criterion Collection DVD of La Jetée and Sans soleil. The same scene also appears in Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys.
- Mavor, Carol (2012). Black and Blue: The Bruising Passion of Camera Lucida, La Jetée, Sans soleil, and Hiroshima mon amour. p. 60. ISBN 978-0-8223-5271-6. Retrieved 11 September 2015.
- Hinkson, Jake (3 November 2014). "There's No Escape Out of Time: La Jetée". Tor.com. Tor Books/Macmillan. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
- Cruz, Gilbert (18 March 2010). "'La Jetee,' 1962 | Top 10 Time-Travel Movies". TIME.com. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
- "The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time". Sight & Sound September 2012 issue. British Film Institute. 1 August 2012. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
- "How Chris Marker's Radical SciFi Film, La Jetée, Changed the Life of Cyberpunk Prophet, William Gibson". Open Culture. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
- "Sigue Sigue Sputnikworld:singles". Web.archive.org. 9 December 2002. Archived from the original on 9 December 2002. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
- "David Bowie's 'Jump They Say'", special feature on the Criterion Collection DVD of La Jetée and Sans soleil
- "Independent Lens . SHORT, NOT SWEET . La Puppé". PBS. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
- "Kode 9, MFO & Ms Haptic present 'Her Ghost'". MUTEK. 11 December 2013. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
- "A Changed Two Door Cinema Club Launched Their Album In London". NME. 16 September 2016.
- Marker, Chris (1992). La Jetée. New York: Zone Books. ISBN 978-0-942299-67-0.