Wednesday, 9 February 2011

La Jetee (1962)

Fig. 1 La Jetee Theatrical Poster

Not really a film in the conventional sense of the word, this is the story of a survivor of a future war told using a montage of stock photos and special shot material.  The story is narrated by the main character, starting with his visit to Paris' Orly Airport during which he witnesses a man being killed.  "Shortly afterwards, Paris was blown up" he informs us blandly, as soaring choral music provides the soundtrack to a montage of images of bomb-damaged cities from WWII.  In some ways, this is the most conventionally "filmic" scene of the movie - to any viewer aquainted with war films the combination of  classical music and scenes of destruction will be familiar.
The survivors of the war are forced to live underground as a result of radiation, and the victors use their captives (including the protagonist) as guinea pigs in unspecified experiments that are described as leading to death or madness.  One day, the protagonist is chosen for experimentation, and taken to meet the scientist in charge.  While the other victors wear strange and sinister glasses (probably to dehumanise them and enhance the audience's perception of them as "bad guys"), the scientist is revealed to be a perfectly ordinary-looking man, who explains that he is working to try and save humanity.

Fig. 2  La Jetee [Film Still]

The rest of the story involves his repeated visits to the past, during which he starts a relationship with a woman he remembered seeing at Orly Airport, before he successfully contacts the future and delivers his message.

When watching the film, it is interesting to note the way that the prewar period is photographed in a relatively well lit way, while the postwar scenes have a high contrast (accentuated by the black and white film) with stark shadows and harsh lighting.  Meanwhile, the scenes where the protagonist makes contact with the future are the most abstract, with strange abstract patterns resembling cloud-chamber tracks overlaid upon black clad figures standing against a black background.
Fig, 3 Future Humans [Film Still]
Although the film is formed almost entirely of still photographs, there is one instance of actual film.  While the protagonist is visiting the past, he has formed a relationship with the woman he remembers.  Despite the difficulties caused by his haphazard appearance (due to being sent back in time erraticaly), they fall in love, and during his final visit to the past there is a shot of her lying in bed and slowly opening her eyes.  Coming after so many still images, the effect of this slight movement is amplified.  As the TimeOut reviewer notes, "The...fluid montage leads the viewer into the sensation of watching moving images. Until, that is, an extraordinary epiphany when an image genuinely does move: the man's sleeping lover opens her eyes." (TimeOut, 1962).

List of Illustrations

Figure 1.   Argos Films (Org) (1962) "La Jetee" Theatrical Poster [Digital Image] At: (Accessed on 08/02/2011)

Figure 2.  Argos Films (Org) (1962) La Jetee [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 08/02/2011)

Figure 3.  Argos Films (Org) (1962) La Jetee [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 09/02/2011)


Crowther, Bosley (1967) Movie Review - Castles for Two (1917) - Screen: Short-Film Show: New Cinema Brings Back Some Favourites of Cinema 16 for Lincoln Center Series In: The New York Times [Online] At: (Accessed on 09/02/2011)

Film4 Staff La Jetee (1962) In: [Online] At: (Accessed on 09/02/2011)

TimeOut Staff (1962) La Jetee Review In: TimeOut London [Online] At: (Accessed on 09/02/2011)

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