On the effectiveness of La Jetée

Suraj N. Kurapati

La Jetée, a film by the French new wave artist Chris Marker, was truly fascinating because of its clever means of storytelling and its brilliant ending.

This film is composed almost wholly of tinted black and white stills. In particular, the tint used was a pale amber brown, which reminded me of a rusted sewer pipe wasting away in some ancient drainage system beneath a modern metropolis. In fact, this kind of feeling suited the film perfectly as the story took place underground. In this respect, Marker chose an effective tint for his stills which created an appropriate mood for his film.

The sound in this film was composed mostly of sound effects and perhaps a melodious background score during the protagonist’s encounters with the smiling woman from the past.

One instance where sound was used effectively was during the protagonist’s participation in the time-travelling experiment. Here, Marker added ambient but incomprehensible whispers spoken by the scientists. These whispers surround and overwhelm the viewer, much like the protagonist is overwhelmed by the scientists. Had the whispers been comprehensible, the viewer’s attention would be diverted away from the protagonist and towards the scientists. In this manner, Marker chose the sound effects well to help the viewer feel the protagonist’s helplessness.

The montage in this film is excellent. After the first few images, I no longer noticed any sharp transitions in the montage. The film gracefully flowed from one image to other next, as the rich photography drew me into the film’s world.

The film’s twist ending was quite brilliant and unexpected. It establishes the goal of the inward-looking journey of the protagonist, which ironically was himself, and serves as a very nice dénouement to the plot. That is, in order to discover who the smiling woman and the mysterious man who was murdered in his childhood, the protagonist unwittingly embarked on this time-travelling expedition.