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The movie that famously inspired Gilliam's 12 Monkeys gets the Criterion Blu-ray treatment....
Criterion / 130 Minutes / 1962/1983 / Unrated / Street Date: February 7, 2012
Chris Marker's La Jetee plays like a futuristic sci-fi B-movie for the hipster museum crowd. Pieced together not by fluid motion editing, but with interrelated still photographs, this 1962 head-scratcher of a short film cemented Marker's reputation as a filmmaking enfant terrible, an artist who understood and was in full familiarity with the laws of moviemaking but was clearly hell-bent on subverting them.
Terry Gilliam saw the narrative potential in La Jetee and used it as a foundation for his film 12 Monkeys - which does a far more user-friendly job of fusing the apocalyptic visions of wartime future with its characters' nostalgic remembrances of a halcyon past - but this new Blu-ray 2-pack does a legitimately convincing job of proving Marker's individuality as a storyteller, with La Jetee clearly confirming its valued place at the top of the director's oeuvre.
If La Jetee works as a unique arthouse fever dream, though, Sans Soleil (1983) is a full-tilt wildcard. A meditation on memory and its ever-changing place in the world (usually when a film critic refers to a movie as a 'meditation', it means the thing is impossible to follow - this is indeed the case here), this quasi-documentary drifts around Japan, Iceland, and even San Francisco in its desire to inspire viewers to consider how 'history' can be created and maintained when 'memory' as a quantifiable entity is so nebulous.
This writer first saw Sans Soleil when Criterion released this double-feature on DVD a number of years ago, and while I was transfixed by the picture then, a second reading of it left me quite cold and unconvinced. Like most hyper-intelligent artfilms, Sans Soleil demands that you get on its wavelength if you have any chance of surviving its metanarrative (it lost me this time after about ten minutes), but even if the movie itself is too pretentiously oblique for its own good, there's no denying that Marker's vision is singular: For better or worse, no one makes movies that look like this one.