SANS SOLEIL, Chris Marker's documentary-travelogue, touches on a variety of cogent and provocative issues and features bleak, sharply intelligent verbal observations about several different cultures.
SANS SOLEIL depicts a 1982 trip taken by a fictitious wandering cameraman, Sandor Krasna, whose letters home are read (in English) by Alexandra Stewart, a woman he knows. Krasna begins in Iceland, but quickly travels by boat to Japan, where he compares the elite to the poor Japanese. He comments on the Japanese interest in dead animals, street carnivals, and elaborate rituals. He also notes that the technological influences on the culture make the city of Tokyo into a "comic strip," where horror movies, television, and mall video games predominate. Krasna later compares Japan to other cultures as he skips continents to Africa and sees similarities in certain ceremonies and the tendency toward "invisiblism" among the poor. He sees a comparable search for freedom in the two cultures, but contrasts the significance of surfaces and appearances in Japan with the more exposed worlds in Africa. In quick succession, Krasna detours to the Ile-de-France, back to Tokyo, and, finally, Iceland, again, to contemplate the significance of time, memory, and images. He wonders whether there will be "a last letter."
Towards the end of SANS SOLEIL, the fictitious Sandor Krasna begs the letter reader to "please excuse these disorganized thoughts." French New Wave documentarian Chris Marker, the real author of this long-form cine-poem, creates another cinematic essay that requires real work to decipher; for those up to the challenge,it offers a certain type of bracing cerebral pleasure. Unlike LA JETEE (1962), Marker's only "fiction" film (at a mere 28 minutes and made up primarily of stills), and several of his other documentaries (including LE JOLIE MAI), SANS SOLEIL deliberately takes the form of amateur home movies or a crudely shot student film; its main interest is in the ideas it presents. (Marker shot the Japan footage, but some of the "home movies" were actually teased from other, older documentaries, including Mario Marret and Eugenio Bentivoglio's GUERILLA IN BISSAU, Daniele Tessier's DEATH OF A GIRAFFE, Haroum Tazieff's ICELAND 1970, and Jean-Michel Humeau's RANKS CEREMONY). The ideas in SANS SOLEIL reveal a consistent preoccupation with temporal issues, a common theme for Marker and the nouvelle vague; the letter writer boldly asserts, in fact, that the main issue of the 19th century was space, while that of the 20th has been time. In a self-reflexive mode, Marker/Krasna predicts that film will replace memory and that the world's "new Bible" will be a constantly recording magnetic tape. He even digresses with a discussion of the "insane memory" of Alfred Hitchcock's VERTIGO (1958), re-creating the film through still
photos and imitations of Bernard Hermann's musical score: Marker's tribute to VERTIGO (a powerful influence on LA JETEE) not only dovetails with SANS SOLEIL's themes but anticipates
the explosion of academic interest in VERTIGO that followed the film's 1984 re-release. (Violence, adult situations.)
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