Criterion pairs two crucial works by pioneering French director Marker on this single-disc release. “La Jetee” (1962, 28 minutes) is a science-fiction tale of time travel told in still photos. Set after World War III, a prisoner of war (Hanich) is used as a guinea pig in an experiment about memory. “Sans Soleil” (1983, 100 minutes) is a travel diary of sorts, as an unnamed female (Stewart) reads aloud letters from a friend who has been travelling in Japan and Africa. His musings and speculations form a surprisingly coherent meditation on time, history and memory.
Marker, who died in 2012, is one of the world’s most probing filmmakers; his works explore the political and the philosophical in groundbreaking ways. “La Jetee” inspired Terry Gilliam to reimagine it as “12 Monkeys”, but it demands attention on its own merits. The stark black and white photos, the horrific images and the lulling narration create a moving picture in the mind, as Hanich searches for a face from his past (Chatelain). “Sans Soleil” also deals with themes of memory, as the poetic narration searches for meaning (and finds profound insights) in such arbitrary things as Japanese shrines to cats and the existence of emus on the Ile de France. These two films may just be our best entry point into the weird and wonderful mind of Chris Marker.