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  • Writer's pictureMiles Stephenson

Sans Soleil (1983), Chris Marker [5/5]

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

Like an 1980s version of Dziga Vertov, a globe-trotting Chris Marker collects scenes of everyday life in Japan and Guinea-Bissau to study the impact of 20th Century technology on humans. While Man with a Movie Camera (1929) examined the social repercussions of the Second Industrial Revolution, Sans Soleil (1983) draws from media theorists and sociologists like Marshall McLuhan and Jean Baudrillard to study memory and reality distorted by the age of the screen, like his earlier short La Jetée (1962) (itself one of the best movies of all time).

This is why Chris Marker pays specific attention to Hayao Yamaneko’s video synthesizer “The Zone” (named after Tarkovsky’s Stalker) and its Simulacra-like imitation of creatures and events sapped of their real world association. In the psychedelic fuzz of The Zone, the viewer sees a kamikaze plane, an emu, marching soldiers, a cat’s face, but each image is simulated, almost cartoon. We see not the associated soup of our subconscious, but pure, alien images, offering nothing more than blazing visuals.

American film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum says Marker “comes across as a European Marxist in Africa, as an American obsessed with technology and technical innovation in Japan, and as a French surrealist in the U.S.—always a naturalized tourist of some sort rather than either a citizen or a greenhorn.”

That American obsession with technology lends the Frenchman a unique ability to capture in images the “global village” of modern reality, a world defined and distorted by the screens of TV and film. It’s a media theorists’ movie, delicately poetic without pretensions, and it's one of the most imaginative documentaries in history. 5/5 stars, a must-see dreamy meditation on modernity, memory, and film itself.

Miles Stephenson

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