This film was written, directed and edited by Chris Marker, who also provided the music. If you have not seen a Chris Marker film before it might help to write that two of his friends and cinematic collaborators were Alain Resnais and Agnes Varda. Associated with the nouvelle vague they were actually part of a distinct group of film-maker known as the ‘left-bank group’. Their films were more experimental, more political and more distinctive than the famous ‘new wave’ films. Marker himself is known for works described as ‘essay films’ and this title is a good example of that approach. Not exactly documentary but addressing the actual world. Wikipedia defines [informal] written essays as characterised by:
“the personal element (self-revelation, individual tastes and experiences, confidential manner), humour, graceful style, rambling structure, unconventionality or novelty of theme,”
Much of this will be found in the Marker film. As well as his personal involvement in so much of the production of the film Marker also appears in slightly fictionalised versions of himself.
The film’s written component is a series of letters both partly read with comments by a female character. The letters are from a cameraman visiting a variety of places: Japan, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Iceland, Paris, and San Francisco. The last includes locations used in Alfred Hitchcock’s highly regarded Vertigo (1958), a film that has pre-occupied Marker for years. I actually did the same homage to the film with a French guide and Marker fan.
The original French version of Sans Soleil opens with the following quotation by Jean Racine
“L’éloignement des pays répare en quelque sorte la trop grande proximité des temps.”
(The distance between the countries compensates somewhat for the excessive closeness of the times.)
The English version of the film opens with lines by T. S. Eliot:
“Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place”…
The screening today is of the English Language version. Marker shot the film on a 16mm camera in colour and standard European widescreen. There are film footage and stills in colour and black and white academy and some special effects. The film-makers quoted are given in the end credits as is the English language narrator, Alexandra Stewart. Marker recorded the soundtrack in asynchronous manner, thus the sound does not always match the imagery. So this is ‘montage’ in the full sense of the word. The film has been copied onto 35mm so we will enjoy a ‘reel’ film.
Sans Soleil is preceded by a short five minute film, also on 35mm and an introduction. The short film is Black by Anouk De Clercq (2015, Belgium). The double bill is the opening event in a weekend of screenings organised by the Pavilion, ‘Artists’ Moving Image Network Screening Weekend’. There are a series of screenings by artists working on film and moving images, including digital and 16mm projections. There are more events at the Hyde Park Picture House but also at a venue in New Briggate, number 42, sited between the entrances to the Grand Theatre and the Assembly Rooms [pre-booking is advised].
The artists include those based in Yorkshire and from farther afield; Alain Resnais has a title screening. This is an ambitious project which promises to be varied, fascinating and rewarding.
Postscript: I apologise; like Rick I was misinformed. Last night we enjoyed the original French language version of Sans Soleil with the letters and comments read by Florence Delay.
Black turned out to be a cinematic meditation on Marker’s use of black leader early in his film. And this 35mm print is a unique artefact, so we were fortunate to see it.