Chris Marker, the French filmmaker and film essayist behind such films as Sans Soleil and the science fiction classic La jetée, has died at 91. Marker was one of the pioneering filmmakers behind the essay film, a loosely defined form that combines documentary footage with personal reflection. Recent successes like Waltz with Bashir, Tarnation, and the great 1986 film Sherman’s March could be considered peers and descendants of Marker’s work, along with aspects of the documentaries of contemporary filmmakers like Werner Herzog and Errol Morris.
Marker created an unlikely science fiction classic in La jetée, which would eventually become the basis for Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys, starring Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt. Composed almost entirely of a series of still images—with the notable exception of one moving image—La jetée tells the story of a man imprisoned under Paris in a post-apocalyptic future, who is sent into the past in hopes of somehow saving the present. It’s a stunningly evocative and imaginative film that holds up against Hollywood’s greatest science fiction, even though its budget allowed for little more in the way of special effects than shots of men in hammocks with pads over their eyes. (These are the time machines.)
The principal theme of La jetée is the inability to escape time, and so there is, sadly, perhaps no more fitting occasion to watch La jetée than today. It’s available on DVD from the Criterion Collection, or you can watch it on YouTube below.