Still life: a director celebrated

CHRIS Marker’s La Jetée was one of the first films made with still rather than moving images.

La Jetée is 27 minutes of science fiction set in post-Apocalyptic Paris. This year is its 50th anniversary, and the Cork French Film Festival is screening it at CIT Wandesford Quay Gallery on Thursday. Marker died last year, and the screening is part of an installation to celebrate him.

Paul Callanan, the artistic director of the festival, developed this year’s programme around the La Jetée exhibition. “La Jetée is definitely Chris Marker’s best-known film,” he says. “Some people would say it’s very unlike Marker’s later work. The whole film is based on a kind of meditation on memory, and how your memory might not be quite as reliable as you think it is. Even though the film is told in stills, as you recall the film, after you watch it, your mind kind of fills in the blanks.”

Marker was a photographer, filmmaker, poet, novelist, editor, and digital multimedia artist. He was renowned for challenging audiences, philosophers, and himself. He revisited themes such as time, memory, and the rapid advancement of life on the planet. A Grin Without a Cat (1977), Sans Soleil (1983) and AK (1985) are his other notable films.

Marker’s innovations in making La Jetée were ground-breaking. Marker was a photographer and his still images, juxtaposed with a bare stop-motion footage, were a landmark in cinema. “Marker developed the film essay,” says Callinan. “Essentially, he did it because he didn’t have the money to do it properly, and this was such an easy way to make a film.”

The festival screening of La Jetée is supported by an exhibition of still photographs. Theses are prints made from scans of the original images Marker used. They were sourced in the archives of Argos Films, who retain the rights.

Marker was part of a group of filmmakers that revolutionised French cinema in the 1950s and ’60s, including Alain Resnais, Agnés Varda, Henri Colpi, and Armand Gatti. The 1995 Hollywood movie, 12 Monkeys, starring Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis, was based on La Jetée.

“There was a whole movement in the ’60s called nouvelle vague — the new wave,” says Callanan, “which, essentially, revolutionised cinema. Up until that point, all the films were studio-based and a lot of them were adaptations of French literary works. French new wave directors, like Godard and Truffaut and Varda, brought the cameras out onto the streets and used real actors, like their friends, rather than theatre-trained actors, and they just completely gave cinema its new life. Even Tarantino’s production company is called A Band Apart — which plays on Godard’s new wave crime film title, A Bande A Pan. So the new wave have influenced contemporary directors, too.”

Julia Fabry is one of the contributors to the La Jetee exhibition. Her piece is a film inspired by a CD ROM made by Marker called ‘In Memory’. Fabry spent time in China last year and, on viewing the CD ROM, she discovered data Marker had gathered on his own travels there. Fabry was intrigued by Marker’s perception of China and developed a film that includes both her own footage and Marker’s. French composer Laurent Levesque collaborated on the piece, which is titled On the Traces of Chris Marker. “It’s a way of seeing the Chinese world through his eyes,” says Fabry.

Fabry only met Marker once, through her association with his friend, the director Agnes Varda. “All his life, he was a visionary,” she says. “We can feel it when we watch this movie, which is very poetic. The aesthetic of the film is very strong, because of the black-and-white pictures. The idea of using fixed images was very unusual at the time. It was very modern, also.”

Fabry works as an assistant to Varda, who also contributed an art installation to the show. “Agnes is very similar to Chris Marker, in his work and in his life. In the beginning, she too was a photographer and then she became a filmmaker and, after that, in her third life, she became a visual artist. Nowadays, she is doing installations with photographs and video.”

Dublin-based duo I Am The Cosmos will perform their debut full-length album, Monochrome, at the opening screening of the exhibition. “For their performance, we are going to be using another Marker film, Sans Soleil, which was shot in Japan,” says Callanan. I Am The Cosmos’ whole sound is based on a Japanese electronic track, so there is a strong Japanese influence in their music, but you wouldn’t actually know it unless you really listen to it carefully. But when you listen to their music, with the images of Sans Soleil, it’s going to be really apparent.”

* The 24th Cork French Film Festival runs until Mar 10; The ‘I Am The Cosmos’ concert and screening of Sans Soleil will take place at 8pm, Thursday, Mar 7. The La Jetée exhibition runs from Friday, Mar 8 to Saturday, Mar 30. CIT Wandesford Quay Gallery is open Wednesday to Saturday, 10am-6pm.

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