Classic DVD: “La Jetée” (1962)

“La Jetée” famously inspired “12 Monkeys.”

A nameless man on a futureless planet, the protagonist in Chris Marker’s perfect 28-minute film about post-apocalyptic Paris is held captive in a warren beneath the City of Lights, which has been reduced to radiated rubble during WWIII. The Man (Davos Hanich) defeatedly assents to be a lab rat for his captors, who want to attempt a time-travel experiment and send him back to the past to attain the materials that will make a future on the planet possible. But returned to a time and place he recalls from his childhood, the Man meets a Woman (Hélène Chatelain) who seems familiar–or perhaps she doesn’t. The pair struggle to grow closer inside what feels like a frustration dream, but just as they near an understanding, they face an end they didn’t see coming.

Rudely awakened from the experiment, the Man finds out that the past was merely a test run and it’s the future where he must go to find the elixir for the scorched Earth. But even if he is able to locate the antidote to apocalypse a thousand years hence, there will be no cure for him. After all, what good is tomorrow to someone who’s been poisoned with sweet dreams of perfecting yesterday?

Apart from one very brief passage, Marker uses no moving images in this film, just stark black-and-white still photographs, a chilling score and a measured voiceover narration. While he does more with less than any sci-fi director ever has, Marker is merely using the conventions of a genre picture to go where Proust and Resnais went: inside those temporal shifts that beat us about like waves at high tide.•

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