One moment from childhood defines a man's entire existence as he time-travels from post-Apocalyptic Paris to save humanity, hunted by the scientists who sent him, and haunted by his strange memory of a gunshot and a girl on the pier.
Both romance and science fiction (rom-sci? sci-rom?), La Jetée is photo-roman instead of film, a story in still images told in the detached third-person. The theme of memory is conveyed in its method; the narrative pairs with the photographs to create souvenirs—the way the man remembers his life is the same way the viewer experiences it. In stills there is an obvious stillness, a sensitive power communicated as remembrance. The sole moving picture segment is affecting in its singularity, the beloved's falling tear and its sense of loss and longing define the movie's emotion in a split-second of action.
Released in 1962, when world cinema was gaining recognition in international markets and France was the cultural capital of the art film, Chris Marker's short garnered praise and gained the director critical respect immediately. Marker had previously worked with Alain Resnais, and was a central figure of the Left Bank/Rive Gauche group of French New Wave contemporaries. Greatly influenced by literary modes, Left Bank directors worked cooperatively with authors of their time, building films as books, focusing on metaphysics and poetry instead of the wonderful, yet sometimes masturbatory experimentalism of New Wave counterparts like Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut et al.
The Left Bank group also differed from their New Wave older brothers financially. Where the New Wave directors were critical darlings and former critics themselves, the Left Bank was appreciated, but on a smaller scale. The battle of art vs. commercialism lived on in work that was brilliant but difficult, a hard sell even at a time when art was in and critics could turn their subjects into pop stars. Smaller successes meant smaller budgets. Aside from the remarkable artistic effect of a film in photos, it was also practical: Marker didn't have enough francs for a movie camera, and could only borrow one for the brief shot of the falling tear.
La Jetée's beauty shows no trace of its director's limitations, the mark of an artistic and practical genius. Already an important piece of cinema at its debut, the short's style is recognized as a seminal influence in montage and editing, and its story has been cited many times, most obviously in Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys. Despite refusing interviews and preferring pictures of his cat serve as his public image, Marker and his work is a living presence, attaining the same quiet power in separation as La Jetée in its stillness.