The quest for offbeat pieces of cinematic art should definitely include a screening of La Jetée, a highly innovative and experimental French film. Even though it is only 25 minutes long, La Jetée is a seamless incorporation of Science Fiction, a very intense and touching love story, and a reflection on human nature – my favorite kind of film.
Director: Chris Marker
After the Third World War, most of the cities on Earth have been destroyed and contaminated with radiation; Paris is no exception. Survivors bear miserable lives in underground facilities, where questionable experiments regarding time-traveling are being conducted in order to try and find a way out of the hopeless apocalypse humanity led itself into. The nameless protagonist of the story is chosen as a test subject to travel back to the past, because of his fixation with a haunting memory of an event he witnessed as a child, a memory associated with the unforgettable face of a woman present in the scene.
When you watch La Jetée, you immediately realize that this is a film that is very different from any other. To begin with, there is almost no filming per se – the whole movie is one big slide show of black and white photographs with a voice over narrating the story, plus some musical tracks that highlight some of the scenes. It might sound tedious, but it works wonderfully, since every single shot is of a striking beauty, carefully arranged and composed, conveying deep emotions and evoking sublime feelings.
I am a firm believer that highly stylized films like this nurture the spirit and the creativity, since there is so much material in there to take in and feel inspired. Also, La Jetée is a magnificent example of how a small budget is not an obstacle to make a great work of art; creativity and imagination can make up for – and even exceed – material limitations in order to create a truly unique piece of cinema.
The story is very original, interesting and enthralling, and the photographic display increases its emotive impact. It is no surprise, then, that Terry Gilliam – of Monty Python fame – took this movie as the base for his film Twelve Monkeys. Even though big Hollywood re-makes tend to have the ability to specifically destroy the particular charm that made a small movie special, I have to say that this is a very honorable exception. Despite having Bruce Willis as a protagonist, Gilliam managed to preserve the essence of the original story, while successfully expanding the idea and nicely interweaving some other fascinating material that enriches the film. It should be noted, however, that while La Jetée mostly centers on the beautifully haunting love story, Twelve Monkeys pays more attention to the Post-Apocalyptic scenario and the Philosophically-oriented Science Fiction aspect of the film.
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Gentlemen Broncos ( Jared Hess, 2009)
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Have you seen the film or know of any other similar pieces of cinema that are worth recommending? Let us know in the comment section…
Image sources: IMDB, the rest are stills taken from the film itself.