La Jetée (1962)

A boy stands on a jetty and watches the planes take off and land. The wind is blowing and his memory keeps one image in his mind: a woman standing off to the side with the wind tossing her hair over her face. She seems...happy, calm.
But this day holds another memory: the boy knows that he saw a man die.
Was it real?
"La Jetée" is a film by Chris Marker, who proves that ingenuity can be found in every decade of film making. The film deals with time travel, memory, the future, the past, and the ramifications of war.
Starting out, "La Jetée" (French for "the jetty") feels like a documentary about a man's life. The entire film is portrayed with pictures. It's just photo after photo with a narrator's voice filling in the gaps.
The scope of the film is cleverly kept hidden from the viewer until the ending. With each passing photo, we learn a little more about the story—for this is a plot driven movie, backed up with romance.
World War III has broken out, the planet has been decimated, Paris lies in ruins. People now live underground in camps, hiding from the reality and death of the surface. Resources are exhausted and humanity is coming to an end.
The man is now a prisoner of sorts, perhaps a prisoner of war; but the film (rightly so) doesn't spell this out completely. "La Jetée" doesn't let its viewer get hung up on the details as is pushes forward in the story.
Driven to the edge by hunger and dread, a group of scientists start conducting experiments on the prisoners; but all of the subjects are either dying or going mad.
Then, while monitoring the dreams, they find the boy—now a man—who keeps the memory of the woman on the jetty inside his head.
He is selected for experimentation.
"La Jetée" is unbridled brilliance and a precursor to so many movies including (but not limited to) "Primer", "Looper", and even "Inception". Yet looking at these movies, one might assume that "La Jetée" is a science fiction movie. Not so. Instead, like the glorious "Upstream Color", the film transcends its own genre.
It become about a tender, forbidden romance. A romance that can't exist not because of family or legal law; but because of physics.
It's curious to see how Marker defines the hero as French and the "villains"—if they can be called that—German. The scientists that experiment on the prisoners are all German which would make sense because this was made less than twenty years after WWII and the common thought was that Germany could explode at any moment.
If "La Jetée" was made today, most likely the hero would be American and the scientists would be Middle Eastern. It's cruel and racist even, but does reflect the common thought.
But more than making a social commentary of different countries, the film is a work of sheer genius.
It never lost my interest and proves that a movie doesn't have to be a moving picture. The photos are shot in a dark black-and-white (a little less contrast than "Pi"); but they are all quite stunning on their own. "La Jetée" could be one long exhibit.
By the end of the film, I was so impressed that I forgot that it was less than thirty minutes long. Again, it shows that film making has no limits.
It's a picture that I wish I had made.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

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