Notwithstanding its reputation as a must-see film for cinephiles, a pseudo-speculative travelogue, a mnemonic device for the contemporary world, or even an esoteric, half-remembered dream, Chris Marker’s masterful work intimates the potential of the essay film and blurs the purported boundaries between truth, memory, history, and fiction.
Guided by a female voice reading letters sent by a globetrotting (and perhaps time-travelling) cameraman, Sans Soleil weaves together television and film clips with stock and documentary footage shot mainly in Japan and Guinea-Bissau. Amid its musings on life in Tokyo, children in Iceland, anticolonial leader Amílcar Cabral, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), video games, friendship, cats, and much more, the film swells with poetry, exhilaration, and melancholy, as though an attempt to mend what Marker called ‘the web of time.’
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About the Director
Chris Marker (1921–2012) was a French filmmaker, writer, cartoonist, and activist, who was known for his groundbreaking work in the essay film genre. After his studies in philosophy, Marker participated in the French Resistance during World War II and began making films while working as a photographer, writer, and journalist. Along with his travels and engagement with the worker-driven filmmaking collective SLON (later known as ISKRA), Marker's experiences informed his perspectives on war, colonialism, otherness, history, and memory. These key ideas are examined and featured in some of his best-known works, including Night and Fog (1955), La Jetée (1962), A Grin Without a Cat (1977), and the interactive multimedia CD-ROM project Immemory (1997).
Image at top: Chris Marker. Sans Soleil, 1983. Photo: Courtesy of Tamasa Distribution