Framework: Chris Marker’s Sans soleil

The Cinémathèque’s Chris Marker retrospective wraps up this weekend with the late experimental master’s 1983 docu/fiction/travelogue.

Sans soleil, © Chris Marker

Framework is a year-long DIY film school; 52 essential films to expand your consciousness.

Chiefly recognized by cineastes, philosophers and those interested in experimental visual culture, Chris Marker is paradoxically as celebrated as he is unknown. Marker, who died this year at age 91, was a photographer, writer, essayist, poet and filmmaker who left behind a body of work that explored politics and ethnography through visual means.

In memory of Marker’s oeuvre, la Cinémathèque Québécoise has devoted a section of its October programming to his 54-year career as a creative visionary. Closing the retrospective this Saturday is one of Marker’s most notable films, Sans soleil.

Sharing a lifeline with his earlier film, La Jetée (1963), Sans soleil, made a precise 20 years later, is neither documentary nor fiction; rather, it is a blend of visual and auditory expression intent on examining human memory and its limitations against history. Letters from the fictitious Sandor Krasna (written by Marker) are narrated over a visual travelogue that observes human life, questions industrialization, celebrates cultural traditions, pronounces differences and seeks commonalities.

From east to west, through the subways of Tokyo, to exotic Guinea-Bissau, through a Hitchcockian San Francisco and volcanic Iceland, Marker’s journey across the world is designed to underline that an objective form of reflection cannot exist. Once an image, as simple as the graceful feet of a traditional Japanese dancer, moves away from present experience, the image becomes falsified the instant it travels into memory. Everything else we conjure is just an impression.

Created with little means (a 16mm Beaulieu silent film camera), all 103 minutes of Sans soleil can work as an exercise in the depiction of thinking, and vice versa: the intellectual endurance required to ponder an image. Chris Marker wrote with pictures, and Sans soleil is a powerful example of how hypnotic sound and delicate image can coalesce into an affecting visual poem.

Sans Soleil screens this Saturday, Oct. 27 at the Cinémathèque Québécoise (335 Maisonneuve E.), 9 p.m.

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