La Jetée/Sans Soleil – The Criterion Collection #387 (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

From the master filmmaker Chris Marker, two significant films that are so different from one another.  One that shows us experimentalism in film at its finest and another that challenges you intellectually and begs for repeated viewings. A fantastic release from the Criterion Collection for those who want to experience a cerebral, artistic and thought provoking style that Chris Marker is known for.

Image courtesy of © 1963 Argos Films, 1983 Argos Films. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: La Jetée / Sans Soleil – The Criterion Collection #387

DURATION: La Jetée (27 Minutes)/Sans Soleil (103 Minutes)

DVD INFORMATION: La Jetée – Black and White, Monaraul, Presented in both English and French, English subtitles.  San Soleil – Color/Black and white, Monaraul, Presented in both English and French, English subtitles

COMPANY: Janus Films, Argos Films, The Criterion Collection


La Jetée

Directed by Chris Marker

Screenplay by Chris Marker

Produced by Anatole Dauman

Cinematography by Jean Chiabaut, Chris Marker

Edited by Jean Ravel

San Soleil

Directed by Chris Marker

Edited by Chris Marker

Music by Michael Krasna

La Jetée

Jean Negroni as Narrator

Helene Chatelain as the woman

Davos Hanich as the man

Jacques Ledoux as the Experimenter

Ligia Branice – woman from the future

Janine Klein – woman from the future

William Klein – man from the future

San Soleil

Florence Delay – Narrator (French)

Alexandra Stewart – Narrator (English)

One of the most influential, radical science-fiction films ever made and a mind-bending free-form travelogue, La Jetée/Sans Soleil couldn’t seem more different—yet they’re the twin pillars of one of the most daring and uncompromising careers in cinema history. Chris Marker, filmmaker, poet, novelist, photographer, editor, and now videographer and digital multimedia artist, has been challenging moviegoers, philosophers, and himself for years with his complex queries about time, memory, and the rapid advancement of life on this planet. These two films—a tale of time travel told in still images and a journey to Africa and Japan—remain his best-loved and most widely seen.

La Jetée – 1962

Chris Marker’s La Jetée is one of the most influential, radical science-fiction films ever made, a tale of time travel told in still images.

Sans soleil – 1983

A complex journey into time and memory, Chris Marker’s mind-bending free-form travelogue roams from Africa to Japan, guided by associative editing and an unnamed narrator.

Christian François Bouche-Villeneuve, the mysterious director known by his alias Chris Marker.  Since 1952, Marker has been involved in films that invoke a person to think.  Not just limited to films, Marker is an accomplished writer, photographer, documentary maker and multimedia artist.  Not known for giving interviews or his picture being captured, if anything, we see only a picture of a cat.

Known for films such as “Lettre de Sibérie” (1957), “Le Joli Mai” (1963), “A Grin Without a Cat” (1977), “AK” (1985), “Level Five” (1997), Chris Marker is a director that has always challenged audiences and what better than to release two films that he is especially known for in a single DVD release from The Criterion Collection: “La Jetée” (1962) and “Sans Soleil” (1983).

Two films that are very different from one another but both have their place in importance of works from Chris Marker.

For “La Jetée”, the short 27-minute film is a tale told through still pictures.  The film takes place after World War III in post-apocalyptic Paris and people who are living underground (to avoid being killed by nuclear poisoning) have their scientists working on time travel.  Trying to find a way to send someone to the past to help the present or perhaps sending someone to the future in order to gain the knowledge of how to prevent the atrocities in the past.

Unfortunately, the time travel tests are not working as may have perished due to the shock of time travel except one man, a prisoner.  And the key to him surviving through time travel is a woman that he remembers seeing from his past.  A horrific tragedy that took place at the airport when he was a child.  And we see the man repeatedly sent back to the past until he is given a chance to be brought to the future.  But what is in store for this man who is able to time travel?  Will he be able to prevent the war or help the people in his present time?

The film and the scenes are described by a narrator.

For “Sans Soleil”, the film can be seen as a documentary that is experimental in many ways.  Experimental in that the film is non-fiction but utilizes fictional elements. While watching, the viewer is exposed to reality of the country at that time and place, from serene to disturbing, images and video that have meaning but can be interpreted philosophically.

Video shot primarily in Japan and Guinea-Bissau, showcasing two countries that are quite opposite in the spectrum.  A film in which revolves around memories and we see images and scenes from 1983, while a narrator reads letters sent to her by a cameraman named Sandor Krasna.  We see images from a variety of countries and locations but then we are then brought to the United States where we are exposed to a lifestyle as seen from the characters on Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” (a film that Chris Marker loves and plays a big part in this film).

In many ways, this film is not easily explained.  It’s a film that dares to make the viewer think.  May it be through what we see happening in Japan or Guinea-Bissau but then images of technology to graphic video of a giraffe being killed.  You may seem unsettled by the film at first but it’s one of those films that is not meant to be viewed in one setting.  It’s a film that you want to go back to, possibly watch each chapter to soak it in and see the meaning by the words and how it relates to the images and video.

Suffice to say, both “La Jetée” and “Sans Soleil” are films that give you a glimpse into the mind of Chris Marker.


“La Jetée” is a film featured in Black and White photo stills, while “Sans Soleil” was shot by Chris Marker with a silent camera.  Both films are presented in their original aspect ratios of 1:66:1.  According to the Criterion Collection, both films feature new high-definition digital transfers created on a Spirit 2K Datacine.  “La Jetée”was mastered from a 35mm fine-grain master positive and “Sans Soleil” was mastered from a 35mm interpositive.

Thousands of instances of dirt, debris and scratches were removed using the MTI Digital Restoration System.

Audio is presented in monaural and is narrated for both films.  While “Sans Soleil” does feature sounds recorded by Chris Marker using a non-sync audio cassette recorder.  The soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from 35mm optical track prints and audio restoration tools were used to reduce clicks, pops, hiss and crackle.  The film is presented via the center channel but for those with modern home theater receivers and have multiple channels, can set their receiver for stereo on all channels.

To the delight of many fans of both films, both audio tracks (English and French) are included.

Subtitles are in English.


La Jetée/Sans Soleil” contains the following special features:

  • Jean-Pierre Gorin – Various interviews with filmmaker, writer and educator Jean-Pierre Gorin about Chris Marker covering the following topics: Fantomas, “Que sais-je?”, The Essay Film, Extraterrestrial, History, Troublemaker, Cinema, La Ciotat, The Fifth Dimension. (Note: This special feature is found on the La Jetée side)
  • Chris on Chris – (9:32) A short video piece by London-based writer and film critic Chris Darke about Chris Marker. (Note: This special feature is found on the La Jetée side)
  • On Vertigo –  (9:13) An excerpt from Cour-circuit (le magazine) exploring Chris Marker’s fascination with Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”. (Note: This special feature is found on the La Jetée side)
  • David Bowie’s “Jump They Say” – (1:42) An excerpt from Court-circuit (le magazine) about David Bowie’s music video for “Jump They say” and how it pays homage to “La Jetée”. (Note: This special feature is found on the La Jetée side)
  • Jeane-Pierre Gorin – (17:51) Another interview with filmmaker, writer and educator Jean-Pierre Gorin from 2005 focused on Chris Marker’s film “Sans Soleil” (found on the “Sans Soleil” menu).
  • 46-page booklet – Featuring a 46-page booklet which includes the essay “Memory’s Apostle: Chris Marker, La Jetée and Sans Soleil” by Catherine Lupton, “The Patheorama” by Chris Marker, “This is the Story” by Catherine and Andrew Brighton, “On Sans Soleil”, The Names of “Sans Soleil”, Racine/Eliot, an interview “Rare Marker: An Interview” by Samuel Douhaire and Annick Rivoire, and “Notes on Filmmaking” by Chris Marker.

“La Jetée/Sans Soleil” is definitely a fantastic release from the Criterion Collection for those who appreciate Chris Marker’s worker or are curious about his work.

But it is one of those releases that you know in your heart that those who get it, can truly enjoy it.  Those who don’t, may find it too cerebral for their tastes.  Even for myself, who enjoys cerebral films, I watched both in one sitting but realized that both will take repeated viewings, “Sans Soleil” I would need to take it in chapter by chapter because I find myself discovering something new with each viewing.

For “La Jetée”, many fans of Terry Gilliams “12 Monkeys” will appreciate where the director was able to come up with ideas which are literally concepts inspired from Marker’s short film.  The film was groundbreaking as it told a sci-fi story without the use of video and primarily through still pictures and audio.   What I find so fascinating are the various essays found online dedicated to the short film.

People who were impacted by the short film in various ways as also shown from the special features on the DVD.  Considered as one of the greatest experimental films ever created, its hard to believe that a film utilizing still photos is able to capture suspense and mystery.

Needless to say, over 25 years later, since the premiere of “La Jetée” I was able to utilize this form in my college project and needless to say, even a person like myself has been inspired by Chris Marker’s work.

As for “Sans Soleil”, similar to “La Jetée”, people come out of this film with different experiences.  Much different from the 1962 film, “Sans Soleil” is much more intellectually crafted.  The film focuses on the words of a fictional character, Krasna, a cameraman who has captured video and images in countries that are so different from each other.

In someways, this film is a time capsule of sorts as it captures life in Japan or Guinea-Bissau.  I feel as if Chris Marker’s experience in Japan is much different than mine.  Where the landmarks still remain the same but technology has changed the landscape of the country.  Similar to Marker who remembers Japan from his memories, I view Japan through memories captured by my father back in 1973 and have since visited the country and have more or less embraced the technology.

What I find so interesting when watching “Sans Soleil” is how much things have changed in Japan but also how things have not changed.    Japan is still a country where many people continue to read manga, Akihabara is still an electronic city, horror films continue, sexuality is still showcased in many different forms and as it was in 1983, suicide is even more prevalent in today’s Japan.  And as for Guinea-Bissau, I don’t think much has changed for the people in terms of culture in the country since 1983.  The main difference is how technology has changed the landscape of livelihood, as it has affected other countries.  Where Guinea-Bissau and other countries where technology has not permeated into the livelihood of the people, life still remains the same.  So, in some ways, over 25-years later since the filming of “Sans Soleil”, I would love to see Chris Marker to return and I would love to see what film he would be able to capture of today’s modern Japan versus his experience from 1983 and the late 60’s.

The film is just a collage of video that begs of you to question them and make you wonder what Chris Marker wanted the viewer to gain from it.  From the picture of three young children smiling in Iceland, to seeing the village being buried by volcanic ash.  Video of a museum in Japan dedicated to the penis and animals in sexual positions.   There are a wide variety of images that will capture your attention but the most shocking of “Sans Soleil” is when we see a giraffe getting shot.  A video image that you just don’t see on any animal show and possibly an image that one just doesn’t forget.  The video is not meant to be something important but merely a transition to another topic but yet, it’s one transition that is one of the most talked about scenes of the film even 25 years later.

“San Soleil” is a film that begs to ask those who have memories of a place and time but in someways, you can see the film as a film that possibly shows the change of society that Marker has come to accept and questions it.  The character of Krasna is constantly bringing up topics of memories and then we are taken to another level when the topic starts to talk about Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”.

Sound confusing?  Explaining “Sans Soleil” is not an easy task unless you dissect each of the words that the character Krasna has written in his letters. And if you go online, you will read various of essays from people who have taken the task to do that and give you their impression of the film.

From his interests in the banalities of life to the impermanence of images and history.  Needless to say that the film is deep, intelligent and is not meant for a person to sit and watch over one sitting.  Those who have and reviewed the film for a publication were quick to dismiss the film as too self-indulgent and too intelligent, while those who watched it many times, especially when it was released on DVD to pick apart the words that the character Krasna has written in his letters.  There is no denying that Krasna is the voice of Chris Marker, a writer who likes to get into your mind and see things differently.

Personally, I appreciate both films in different types of ways.  “La Jetée” as an experimental film for its time and “Sans Soleil” as a film that is artistic but yet so dense that you need to watch it as many times as possible, but in pieces not entirely.  As mentioned earlier, with each viewing, I’m always discovering something new.

Overall, “La Jetée/Sans Soleil” is a wonderful release for Chris Marker fans.  There are plenty of supplements and the fact that the video has been restored and contains both English and French versions of the two films is absolutely fantastic.  This title is not exactly the easiest to review but it all comes down to the viewer who wants to be entertained or wants to be intellectually challenged, or a combination of both.  And if you are interested in this release for the latter, then you will find this release from The Criterion Collection to be quite significant and a title that you will find yourself coming back to quite often.  Definitely recommended!