Monday, 24 April 2017

The Pier (La Jetee) (1961)

La Jetée
Older movies often have a problem with pacing. Often they move slowly, too slow for our modern tastes, and drag out a story unnecessarily. “La Jetée” has the opposite problem. It is way too short.

“La Jatée” is a bit of an oddity as it consists exclusively of still and I cannot help thinking that I am looking at a storyboard of a half-finished movie. Fleshed out this would be an excellent movie, but as it is it is way too short and merely a skeleton of what it should be.

A ma has a memory from his childhood of a woman on the pier of Orly airport in Paris. A man rushes towards her and is killed. The world is ruined in an apocalyptic world war and Paris is a radioactive desert. Survivors live underground divided in a master and a slave segment. The masters are making experiments on the slaves in order to send them forward or backward in time to get help. The man with the memory is a successful test subject and manages to get back in time and meet the woman. He befriends her and spends a considerable time with her. Confident in their success the masters now send him to the future where humanity grant him an energy source. Mission accomplished the masters prepare to terminate their test subject, but he is saved by future humanity. He can join them, but asks instead to be sent back to the woman. He finds her on the pier and rushes towards her. As he is killed by an agent of his masters he realizes that this is exactly the scene he remembers watching in his childhood.

This sounds familiar, no?

Years later Terry Gilliam actually fleshed out the story in his “12 Monkeys”. Technically I suppose it was a remake, but can you remake a sketch? Anyway, the similarities are so striking that it feels like the movie “La Jetée” should have been and it is also acknowledged by Terry Gilliam.

Even in its half-finished look “La Jetée” is an interesting little piece of work. The pictures are striking and the apocalyptic feel is exquisite. This mix of slum and high-tech, misery and hope is so well developed that Gilliam in his quirky mind hardly had to improve on it. The black and white photography is reminiscent of concentration camps and with the Nazi doctors and the German mumblings I do not think that is coincidental.

I also like the story a lot. Time travel, as silly as it is, is a favorite theme of mine because of its paradoxes and this is an early example of those paradoxes in play. The position of the “movie” is that ultimately time has a single stream and you cannot really change it, only create loops. No multi-verse or alternative time lines here and philosophically it is also more satisfying. Time travel is such an interruption on reality that it really should be limited.

The biggest problem of “La Jetée” is the short running time. Only 27 minutes! Of those Chris Marker, the director, decided to spend a considerable part idling around on a museum. I could see time running out and they were just looking at animals! I feared that the ending would be rushed and it was. Almost anti-climactically so.

In a sense I do not mind the still image format. It serves its purpose, but maybe for a longer movie it would have been too much. Even then, had the movie spend 15 minutes more on key points this would have felt like a complete movie. The potential for greatness is so big that missing that last step feels almost criminal. Still, I enjoyed it a lot, as I had a feeling I would, and I would definitely recommend it. As introduction in a double feature with “12 Moneys” it would be perfect.




    The entire point of this movie, as well as 12 Monkeys, comes from the idea of having a character who witnesses his own death.


    Needless to say, I love it, and I love 12 Monkeys as well. Truthfully, I'd rather have 12 Monkeys on the list, even if this one is more important.

  2. Yeah, I am rather disappointed that 12 Monkeys is not on the List. Maybe we need a community list of movies that should be on the List but for mysterious reasons are not included.

    1. Except in 2009, I've posted a list of films I'd like to see added every Christmas. In 2009, it was a couple of days after Christmas.

    2. True, and I read it every year. It would just be noce to have an accumulated list that we cold refer to, say, "the on hundred movies that deserved a slot"