Now I don’t normally review shorts but I have found myself haunted by La Jetée, another reoccurring film that I kept stumbling on in my search for the best of the science fiction genre. I am thinking maybe a short review for a short film but I guess we will see.
What it is: La Jetée or The Pier in English is a 1962 French sci-fi film directed by Chris Marker and is a major inspiration of the 1995 Bruce Willis flick, Twelve Monkeys. Now the original is admittedly entirely in French but with that being said the entire film isn’t composed of actual moving scenes but rather is more of a slide show style film composed of several stills with a narrator speaking over it. Pssh, who needs 48 frames a second when you can have .5 frames per second. La Jetée like the 1995 remake takes place in a post apocalyptic world shortly after World War III and is more or less about time travel and the resulting paradoxes.
My thoughts on it: So admittedly those first two points I mentioned can both be construed as negatives but the two actually work pretty well for each other. I absolutely cannot stand watching a film where the dialogue doesn’t match the lips of the actors so I normally watch foreign films in the language they were originally recorded in. Due to La Jetée being mainly composed of stills and relying heavily on a narrator for audio input you are able to watch it in English without any real negative impact on the film.
Now the story of La Jetée is rather similar to that of Twelve Monkeys but it still has a bit of variation or at least as much variation as the half hour running time would allow. Now even thought the images and gist of it might be foreign all real plot twists, surprises, and revelations can be incredibly easily predicted if one has seen Twelve Monkeys which definitely is a bit unfortunate but that much could be expected when going into any remake or original of a remake. In the end, even though it is more of less the same story as the 1995 film it is still a very unique story and it is really cool seeing where Twelve Monkeys started from.
Now as cool as the movie is, the made-up-of-stills format is a little funky and ultimately takes away from the experience by making the film a little clunky a lot less smooth than it could potentially be. Sure it is an oldie but it was made in 1962; motion pictures have been around forty years at this point. By only using stills and narrations it prevented any of the actors from really shining and it made it a little difficult to associate and connect with them.
While ultimately this style wasn’t the ideal format it did allow for an absolutely haunting scene in both the movie and all of cinema. [SPOILER ALERT] This entire half hour short is filmed in this slideshow-esque style with the exception of one scene. For one brief second during a relative close up of the woman our protagonist has fallen for in the past, we see her move. It isn’t more than a gentle breath and the opening of her eyes but it is there. Out of these lifeless and dry stills we see movement and life. We see this girl whose existence we are partly questioning move and all of the sudden she is most real thing in the entire film. Due to the still nature of the movie this little shudder might as well have been a massive explosion. You find yourself struggling to understand the characters or placing yourself in their shoes but the second those beautiful eyes open you find yourself for at least a moment understanding why our protagonist has fallen so deeply for this woman. This one scene makes up for all other shortcomings the film has. [END OF SPOILERS]
Now it ultimately comes down to the question of whether or not you should watch La Jetée. Despite the funky format it is only half an hour long and that one scene/moment is one of my favorites in all of cinematic history. Regardless of whether or not you can watch it in English or simply follow along with subtitles I definitely feel that La Jetée is a film worth checking out especially if you love science fiction and/or Twelve Monkeys.
Without that one fantastic scene this movie would sit right around 3 or 3.5 but I love that scene too much to let it settle that low so I give La Jetée a 4/5.
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