A black & white experimental short film, La Jetee (1962) is a half-hour science fiction tale told almost exclusively with still photographs, narrated in French, with subtitles. A man remembers a face, & a moment, just before World War III, when he was a lad. But the memory is really only a snapshot in time. The full import of that moment he does not know.
He lives imprisoned in a dystopian future, as conveyed in eerie photos of insane victims of experimentation & radiation. The man clings to that one flashing memory of well-being in order to escape from the reality that surrounds him.
Because he has a fixed memory of the past, he is chosen from among the prisoners to undergo agonizing, dangerous experiments of mental time-travel, or time-imagining, under the theory that a better future can eventually be inhabited, saving humanity that is otherwise doomed in the present.
"Lucid dreaming" & "astral projection" were not yet popular terms, & not terms this film knows. But those are the techniques the exeprimented-upon prisoner relies on in visiting, envisioning, or imagining the past & future.
After thirty days of dreaming, his imagined past is so complete he is able to meet somebody therein, a woman he falls in love with, a woman in his life-long memory of one moment of well-being, in a time before the terrible third war.
The second phase of the experiment has him visiting the future, where he met other time travelers eager to reveal to him the real meaning of that one childhood memory of the Jetee. The revelation is a tough one, striking the viewer like a brick.
This is a classic experimental film, so simple in its execution that many a young filmmaker has found inspiration in it. But the simplicity is deceptive & it would not be half the film it is without the coherent story that it finally becomes with its final revelation. For a collage-based experiment, this is a surprisingly rich science fiction story, & provided the foundation for the commercial film 12 Monkeys (1995).
But some imitations of La Jetee have seen only the "easy" avant garde aspect, which is an imitative excuse to make chaotic irrational films without structure or meaning. Without a story worth telling, a filmmaker might as well be playing with flipbooks.
That so many filmmakers, beginners or established, fail to understand a good story matters greatly, has ruined many a film whether big-budget & FX driven, or simple short films with penny-budgets. La Jetee valued the power of authentic storytelling.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl