La Jette

La Jetee with its black and white photography, and use of light and shadow, screamed FRENCH NEW WAVE, the only thing missing were cigarettes (which seem to be a mainstay of French film) and passion for little Italian cars. The flicker of photographs being plunked down in a frenzied montage, cemented that it was indeed Nouvelle Vague.
My first encounter with French New Wave Cinema began with Godard’s film, Weekend. My professor, after reading my paper told me I was being too literal. After a semester of Truffaut, Chabrol, Resnais and Godard, the comments were “you are over analyzing the films.” What is a film student to do? This was the beginning of my love-hate relationship with the French New Wave.
Film students and critics applaud the genius of those radical and experimental films, and the directors that made them. For many of us, trying to ferret out the message can make one feel like their brain is going to explode, the word Vague needs no translation. That is part of the appeal, you are supposed to figure it out, come to conclusion, to think for yourself. The filmmaker tutors the audience in the abstract, they are thought provoking, and mind bending ideologies. This type of art heavily relies on the philosophies of the Existentialists: Kafka; Nietzsche; Kierkegaard, and the very depressing Dostoyesvsky (Russian literature has a long association with being morose, I’ve been told it is part of the collective consciousness). La Jetee fits the requirements of this type of genre.
The idea that life is death and death is life, and time is only perceived as linear was the main theme of La Jetee. The photo stills being static leads the voyeur to the impression these moments are in the past. The movement from one photo to the next in rapid succession gives the viewer the impression of what is immediate. Each representing Death and life. The man seeing himself as a boy who witnesses a murder, and also being a man who sees his own death, lends to the idea time and space are fluid. To drive this point home, we see the man occupying 3 places at once (past, present and future). Time is flexible and transitory, today can be tomorrow or yesterday. Another theme in this story appears to be the thought of what is real and what isn’t. Is the man dreaming he was a boy, was he dreaming he was living in a post-apocalyptic world, was he dreaming he was being shot to death, or was he dreaming all of it? The film plays with the notion that reality isn’t real, that we are experiencing a mass delusion and existence is just a hallucination.
One of the hallmarks of French New Wave is not having a clear idea of what the truth is. Chris Markers wants us to think about the notion of memory, can what one remembers be an honest representation of the truth? In psychological research, it is said how people remember the same event differently. The mind is a very tricky thing and Markers seems fascinated with the inner workings. Existentialism has a preoccupation with what is real and what isn’t, what is authentic. In our documentary film class we were asked to think about Cinema Vérité, the truth of what is revealed in film. Truth, authenticity, reality, are these ideas set in concrete or are they subjective? In all of the films we have seen, all have an element of truth, with the concept of truth shifting. In La Jetee the truth is the question of what is the truth (or what is real), in Nanook of the North we saw reenactment of the truth, in Night and Fog we saw truth in the history of a particular place and time, and in Grey Gardens we see the daily lives of mother and daughter as if we were the fly on the wall. In La Jetee we are asked to think about what truth is, what time and space are. In others we are not required to guess if something is real, each in their own way is unraveling the truth in any given time and space. Even the wretched Birth of a Nation is a representation of someone’s truth.

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