Wednesday, September 03, 2014

La Jetee

La Jetee ~ This is an interesting little film, and by little, I mean it. It's just under a half-hour long. Written and directed by Chris Marker, it was apparently the inspiration for 1995's 12 Monkeys. This is how I first encountered it. When 12 Monkeys was in theaters, I was working in a video rental store and everyone wanted to see the inspiration for the flick. Needless to say, there were not a lot of customers who were happy with this award-winning twenty-eight minute black and white art film from 1962. That's not to say its not good, let's just say it's different, and not what they expected.

La Jetee is almost exactly the stereotype we mainstream American movie goers think of when we think of a French film. It's arty, subtitled or dubbed (from two different languages), avant garde, hard to understand, and makes 1980s jeans commercials seem to have more depth. And then there's the weirdness of it not actually being a 'motion picture' at all - it's composed of all still shots with voiceover.

Want to give an unsophisticated American Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis fan a headache? Here you go, all in one half-hour package. I remember I had several customers raise a stink not wanting to pay for the rentals for reasons ranging from 'it's not a real movie' to the more direct 'it sucks.' Sorry, no refunds, even for this.

Not being what one would expect is not necessarily bad. La Jetee is just different, very different from 12 Monkeys, but thematically so however. We're still dealing with time travel, just not traditionally so, like its American cousin. In post-nuclear World War III Paris, scientists are trying to send people to the past and to the future in order to save their present, prevent the war, and save civilization. Paradoxes occur and our hero is on the run, haunted by a childhood memory, but eventually things come full circle in an ending that would make O. Henry smile.

If you remove 12 Monkeys from the equation and from your head, La Jetee can be quite compelling and you'll forget all the obstacles that may at first seem hard to get over. The twenty-eight minutes fly by as you're pulled into this world and this man's journey. Marker blends striking imagery with an intriguing storytelling style to create a startling vision. Worth seeing, those long ago video store customers didn't know what they were talking about.

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