Thursday, July 9, 2009

At Home He's A Tourist

Sans Soleil (Sunless)(1983)
Directed By Chris Marker

"Because I know that time is always time And place is always and only place And what is actual is actual only for one time And only for one place"-TS Eliot. -Ash WednesdayI was ulitmately disappointed with how simplistic this documentary/film essay, turned out to be. Tokyo, Japan is an ultra-modern future world, with a rich glorious history, all electric lights and ancient festivals. Africa (portrayed by Guinea-Bissau, West Africa) is a war torn 3rd world bazzar populated by people of quiet dignit; women who wont look at his camera, and soldiers who make him feel bad for the using the word guerrilla to describe a style of film maker.San Francisco is where Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo was shot, and he takes a tour through all the shooting locations. Happiness is a photograph of blond children in Iceland* standing on a road. There were some interesting moments, images, and ideas floating around here; the temple of the cats, the various parades, phallic fountains, etc.But Marker's dialogue never rises above that of an intellectual tourist, not necessarily a bad thing, if organized correctly, but it becomes clear very quickly the role playing game he's playing; he's a wide eyed capitalist when visiting Tokyo, a guilt ridden Marxist when visiting Africa, a film geek in the states, and a melancholic post-modernist in Europe. Compare how much footage there is of Japan to that of Africa, and this films preferences speak for themselves. Although having a woman narrate for him, was a good choice, probably the films best. It's a cool idea for a travelogue/film essay, but it never delivers on it's intellectual and visual promise, it just sprawls out and repeats itself again and again. In one scene the narrator says, they did not chose the locations because of their contrast, but because they represent "two extreme poles of survival", or in other words, for "contrast'". That scene is a microcosm of the films greater flaws, a tendency towards grandiose overstatement, that often fails to resonate emotionally, and as anything other than stream of conscious rambling of the worst kind. I normally am a fan of this kind of multi-layered word and image associations, but here things never rise out of the abstract to the specific. Marker does have some fascinating insights into things like Japanese pornography and horror films, which I personally found fascinating, and some of his augmented digital effects called The Zone (the name of which is a reference to an Andrei Tarkovsky film "The Stalker").Had it ended about twenty minutes before it does, an obvious and more concise end point like his idea for the end for the world sci-fi movie things might have felt smoother, but then it goes on again, back to the east then to the west, back to the east and back to the west, back to get where I'm going with this. Ultimately it's better to look at than to listen to, but for a purely cerebral rumination on memory, globalization, and the most intimate psychological structures of post-modernism, it's a rousing success. A bit long in the tooth for themes worn in more classical terms by films like "Intolerance" , "Babel", and "One Giant Leap", even though it's much more visually pleasing than it's cousins. San Soleil is first and foremost a film made to be watched, with the narration serving as a kind of conceptual elevator music.Those interested in experimental films, will even if they don't outright enjoy this, doubtless find it challenging and vigorous. Another movie I now own, which I probably won't watch again. Maybe Terry Gilliam will come along and 12 Monkey's this too (Gilliam remade Marker's La Jette in the 90's). It's better to look at than to listen to. On second thought, and after looking over these pictures, I will most definitely watch this again. Chris Marker does succeed in one area , perhaps most important for an artist no matter what their other ambitions may be, and that is to show the audience the world, for a moment, through their eyes. Marker's words may be muddled, but his images come in clear.

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