Plot: What’s it about?
In La Jetee, the memory of standing in an airport as a young boy haunts a man. As a child, he was at an airport when a woman caught his attention and as he watched her, a man was murdered right in front of his eyes. Soon after, a nuclear war is unleashed and life as we know it comes to an end. The population now lives underground, in almost prison like conditions, as experiments in time travel are carried out. The young boy at the airport has grown into a man, recruited to travel to the past and help find a way to make sure this future never happens. But can he handle the path he is about to walk on? In Sans Soleil, we watch as footage from a worldly photographer is unveiled for us, images from all over the globe. In addition to the images, he also sends his own comments on the work, all mailed to a female companion. Do his images simply provide a travel guide of sorts, or is there deep cultural meaning behind his photographs?
Of course, we’ve all heard of La Jetee thanks to Terry Gilliams 12 Monkeys, which uses the material as a foundation of sorts for his dark futuristic tale. Now in this release from Criterion, we can revisit the inspiration of the original, plus a second film by the same filmmaker, Sans Soleil. I have to admit, both of these movies are experimental in nature and by design, are going to divide those who watch. Some folks will connect with the material instantly and love these unusual efforts, while others will dismiss them and find no value whatsoever. That seems to be the intention however, as filmmaker Chris Marker has crafted these visions and stuck to his guns, regardless of how the audience might take his work. For example, La Jetee is made up of still photos, an approach that is destined to frustrate some and delight others. Sans Soleil pulls no punches with its imagery and is open ended, leaving those who watch to draw their own personal conclusions. Not mainstream and not conventional, La Jetee and Sans Soleil are powerful works and for those with brave cinema appetites, are well worth a look.
Video: How does it look?
La Jetee and Sans Soleil are both presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. You won’t mistake these transfers for the latest blockbusters, but thanks to Criterion’s restoration work, both look quite good. La Jetee has a simple visual design and the transfer here presents the black & white visuals as intended. A little worn at times, but solid throughout and the transfer is better than some other releases I’ve seen. Sans Soleil is the opposite, with a lot of color and scenery to soak in. But as expected, it all looks good and while clarity isn’t ultra high, detail is acceptable. So once again, Criterion waves their magic wand and poof, we have two good looking visual transfers.
Audio: How does it sound?
Both films have mono soundtracks, with the option of French or English language tracks. These are typical mono tracks, so there isn’t much flash, just basic performance. I didn’t notice any serious age related defects in either case, as both sounded clear and the volume was consistent. These movies don’t need much at all, so while simple and rather basic, these soundtracks more than take care of business. Of course, optional English subtitles have been provided.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The supplements here aren’t extensive, but we do have some informative interviews with filmmaker Jean Pierre Gorin. He tries to provide us insight into Chris Marker as a filmmaker and artist in general, as well as his personal life. I wouldn’t call the information in depth, but Gorin shares some good insights and these interviews are worthwhile. You can also watch two excerpts from Court-circuit, one that looks at how La Jetee inspired David Bowie’s music video Jump They Say, while the second looks at how Marker was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. And finally, we have Chris on Chris, a featurette by filmmaker Chris Darke that once again strives to show us more of Marker and his methods.