Chris Marker (1921) is a French writer, photographer, and film director. He has has a long career, but this appears to be his most influential work outside of the French language.
As the story is told in large photographs, with very short captions, I could probably fit the entire text within the length of one of my normal reviews. Obviously Monsieur Marker is maximizing on the concept of a picture is worth a thousand words.
The setting for the novel is the bleak underground galleries, and shelters of post-nuclear war Paris. It is a cruel world, with a lot of fruitless experiments, often with not entirely willing subjects, directed to finding a way back to a life above ground.
The scientists have discovered a time anomaly. They want to send a subject back in time, or possibly to a different world entirely. If the subject can survive, possibly the rest of the survivors can follow. Because the whole process is so unstable, they decide to send back a man who has a particular powerful memory of the past: a scene on a jetty (an airport loading dock); the jetty at Orly airport to be exact. And thus we have the title. The initial experiment is successful in so far as the man goes back in time to a place where people still walk around in parks, the pigeons still roost, et cetera.
But of course, if the solution was that easy, that simple you would not have much of a movie. Oddly enough for such a short length, this novel actually has a few complexities not found in the movie 12 Monkeys. After success in the past, the attempt is made to send the man to the future, to beg for help from whatever people can be found there. After all, if the future people, do not insure the survival of the past people, how will there be future people? It all starts going askew there.
The whole effect of the black and white photos, and the alternating cruel, cold, or remote images reminds me a lot of the dark images from Jean Cocteau's Orpheus: this being a retelling of the Greek classic with black clad motor cycle riders. Oddly enough, I am not the only person to make this connection (completely independently), Janet Harbor in her book that focuses solely on this movie, notes that the story is to some degree a story of going back in time, and makes a less specific connection to the Orpheus tale.
Janet Harbord, Afterall Books, London, 2009
La jetée is a story about going back. It tells of a man whose desire is to return to the past, and as such it is a film that echoes other stories, cultural myths that are full of warning. Orpheus loses his lover through a backward glance…it echoes the (often misplaced) desire of many noir films, to go back and reconstruct the past in order to elucidate a truth about a woman. Going back is not something that one can get away with.
Did I enjoy the book? Yes, of course I did. Since I liked the movie 12 Monkeys, I was predisposed to like La jetée. The photography is wonderful. It is a very short story, and a rather sad story, but it is a story that stays with you.
|(Thumbnail) The woman of his obsession is at La jetée - similar to the cover shot, this exact photo is not in the novel, it is courtesy of the Amazon sample and can be found here - likely it is a shot from the movie. It portrays the opening of the final scene.|
As to our descriptive ratings: Realism and Readability: 1 to 7 with 7 being high.
Realism: hmm. Well the guy starts in a future destroyed world living underground and then goes back and forth in time. Nothing like this is going to happen to you or your close associates: even if a few of them happen to be French. There are no elves or faeries: a 2.
Readability: is almost beside the point. It is a captioned picture book. There are some plot twists, and it will get you thinking, but you cannot get much easier to read than this: a 7.