"Sans Soleil" which translates to "sunless", is more like a diary of a film maker than it is anything else. It could be viewed as a documentary and often is; but the movie is so personal, so private, and so intimate that it escapes all definitions.
The movie concerns a man (presumably the director, Chris Marker) and his journey around the world. His adventure is over and the film that he took of all the places he has been is developed. "Sans Soleil" plays as if he sends the film to a woman and she watches it while reading his diary.
The images of the film itself are paired with the rambling and sometimes philosophical thoughts that he wrote in his journal.
Dealing with memory, time, Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo", anti-imagery, and culture—it's impossible to firmly grasp what "Sans Soleil" is trying to convey.
At first, I thought it was a love letter to humanity, trying to encapsulate an entire world through film. Our narrator, reading the diaries, remarks that normal people will always look right at the camera—even though this is a big 'no-no' in film school. With this in mind, Marker effectively captures truly human experiences and expressions.
Then the film seemed like it was trying to showcase different cultures. Even though it's shot mainly in Japan, "Sans Soleil" has some moments that are filmed in Africa, Iceland, and Portugal. But what is this doing? Maybe this film is really about Japanese culture.
Yet here again, I am perplexed...the film seems more interested in commenting on commenting on commenting on commenting on Japan and life that it gets a little wearisome.
My brain hurts.
Perhaps all the different techniques used and all the fancy language/deep statements are really just trying to evoke an emotional response rather than an analytical one.
Marker could be saying that you should just sit back and let the movie wash over you...this would be in check with the repetition of a phrase about emus living on the Isle of France.
As far as visuals go, "Sans Soleil" looks great...Marker's style is impossible to miss.
Marker's other famous film "La Jetée" seems to have no similarity with this movie. But both films have a photographic nature...though "Sans Soleil" is mostly moving images. Both films touch on large subjects, if only for fleeting moments: war, poverty, and time. There is even one moment in "Sans Soleil" where a jetty is mentioned. Coincidence? Purposeful? Meaningful? I cannot say.
"Sans Soleil" is not as plot driven as Marker's other film...relying more on its fancy words and beautiful images.
As the movie pushes forward, it gets even more complicated. We enter into debate the late-night television of Japan.
One scene stands out more than the rest: Marker loves cats and owls...he tells us this. And all animals are treated with respect in "Sans Soleil". We come to a scene where is giraffe is hunted down and shot. It's quite obvious that this is actually happening and no trick of the film. It's violent and bloody...what is Marker saying with this?
All-in-all, "Sans Soleil" is fascinating and open to much analysis. You could go through the movie with a pen and some paper and you'd be sure to find something of worth.
Yet the movie is so confusing and muddled that it is not that enjoyable to watch.
I can appreciate what Marker accomplished; but that doesn't mean that he made another masterpiece.
If you watch anything by Marker, watch ""La Jetée".
Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4