French filmmaker Chris Marker is a unique talent. His views are unlike any of his contemporaries. He rarely appears in public or gives interviews; Marker wants his ponderings on time, perception, and memory to stand on their own. Don’t spend a lot of time looking for a lot of narrative, forget it. Marker shuns that in favor of the development of cinema as thought. It’s with that in mind that we explore La Jetée and Sans Soleil.

La JetteProduced more than two decades apart, La Jetée (1962) and Sans Soleil (1983) are both very different, yet equally innovative. Many movie fans may not be familiar with La Jetée, but to others the 27-minute film is considered the greatest science-fiction film ever made. La Jetée served as the inspiration for Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys (1995). La Jetée begins just after the end of World War III. A handful of survivor’s now live deep underground in Paris; they have limited resources and virtually no information about all the atmospheric changes that have occurred.

As a young boy, an unnamed survivor (Davos Hanich) witnessed the killing of a man at Orly Airport, where he had also seen a beautiful woman (Hélène Chatelain) whom he never forgot. The man’s fixation on that moment has made him the perfect candidate for a time travel experiment. The experimenter (Jacques Ledoux, curator of the Belgium Cinematheque) sends him back in hopes of finding a source of food and water, but the protagonist is more interested in reconnecting with the beautiful woman.

As the man travels back and forth between past and present, it’s hard to tell whether he’s there physically or just in his mind. He meets the woman, and loses her again and again, until he finally meets at the same spot as years before. As with many memories, he learns that things weren’t as he remembered them. The fallibility of memory is a main theme here. Through the use of mostly still photography, Marker manipulates our sense of time, and attempts to redefine our perception of reality.

Like La Jetée, Sans Soleil questions our perceptions of reality, but stays firmly planted in the present. Part documentary, part travelogue a woman (Alexandra Stewart) reads the letters Sandor Krasna (who we find out in the end credits is an alter-ego of Marker), who has traveled to Japan, Iceland, and the former Portuguese colonies of Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau.

The film has no clear direction. Starting with the phrase “He wrote me,” each segment explores a different philosophical question: technology, consciousness, Japanese television and more. Generally remembered for its sequences in Japan, Sans Soleil is fascinating in that it gives Krasna/Marker an opportunity to reflect on various topics while traveling the globe.

Sans Soleil translates as Sunless, which refers to an interval in the film, when after seeing some footage shot in Iceland, Marker discusses a science fiction movie he’d like to make. The filmmaker quickly dismisses the idea as something that would never get off the ground, but it provides a window into Marker’s creative mind.

Both presented in their original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, the 1080p transfers are very nice. The black-and-white La Jetée shows off a very nice contrast. Sans Soleil is a mix of stock footage and film clips, shot in 16mm. A thick level of grain limits the detail a bit, but things still look good.

Both films are presented in English and French LPCM Mono. The narration in La Jetee is clear throughout, and the documentary feel of Sans Soleil has nice you-are-there feel.

English and English SDH subtitles are included.

The following special features are included:

  • Jean-Pierre Gorin (24 min, 1080i) writer and educator Jean-Pierre Gorin discusses La Jetée and director Chris Marker’s body of work.
  • Chris on Chris (10 min, 1080i) a short piece on director Chris Marker, by writer and film critic Chris Darke. The piece features comments by American filmmaker Michael Shamberg.
  • On Vertigo (10 min, 1080i) this excerpt from the French television series Courtcircuit (le magazine) explores Chris Marker’s fascination with Vertigo.
  • David Bowie’s “Jump They Say” (2 min, 1080i) another excerpt from the French television series Courtcircuit (le magazine) which takes a look at David Bowie’s 1993 music video “Jump They Say” and the ways it pays homage to La Jetée.
  • Jean-Pierre Gorin (18 min, 1080i) French filmmaker, writer, and educator Jean-Pierre Gorin discusses Sans Soleil and his friend Chris Marker.
  • Junkopia in 1080p, a six-minute film by director Chris Marker about the Emeryville Mudflats.
  • Booklet – a 44-page illustrated booklet featuring Catherine Lupton’s essay “Memory’s Apostle: Chris Marker, La Jetée, and Sans Soleil”; and interview with Chris Marker; notes on the film by Chris Marker, etc.