Directed by Chris Marker. Screens Aug. 21, 6:30 p.m. at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
“I think I was already suspicious when I was born…. I must have travelled a lot before then!” So said Chris Marker in a rare interview in 2003, and by that ethereal logic, the great French filmmaker is probably somewhere very interesting right now. At the risk of getting mystical about an artist whose work was so peerlessly clear-eyed, it’s arguable that Marker, who died on July 29 at the age of 91, transcended the physical boundaries and entrenched expectations of his chosen media. Whether you ultimately classify him as a journalist, a polemicist, or a futurist, his was the cinema of out-of-body experiences.
It’s bittersweet timing that TIFF’s Summer in France program gets around to Marker so quickly after his passing, and frankly it’s hard to think of another film as disturbingly death-tinged as his 1962 short La jetée, a pocket-sized existentialist fable that quotes from Hitchcock and anticipates The Terminator (and, most famously, inspired 12 Monkeys). Told via a series of still photographs (with one unforgettable, near-subliminal flicker of movement inserted at a key juncture), La jetée uses a pulpy post-apocalyptic time-travel conceit to plumb big questions about mortality and memory—the latter being one of Marker’s favourite subjects, which is appropriate given the indelible quality of his image-making.
Sans soleil (1983) is not the only example of Marker’s work as a cine-essayist but it has endured as arguably the keynote work in the format. Framed as a series of letters and sent from a (fictional) globe-trotting cameraman to his friend, it’s a film of geographical, historical, and intellectual sweep that finds time for grace notes involving Japanese whack-a-mole games, gently pecking emus, and cats (Marker’s other favourite subject). There are a few fleeting shots that feel like epic films in and of themselves, but Marker knew better than to linger, because, in the words of Sans soleil’s globe-hopping narrator, “a moment stopped would burn like a frame of film blocked before the furnace of the projector.” Marker’s films are the light that will never go out.