Marker may be best known for his short film La Jetée, both for what it inspired–namely the Terry Gilliam film 12 Monkeys–and more importantly, for its experimental structure. A post-apocalyptic film comprised almost entirely of still photographs, La Jetée is a beautiful and haunting examination of the cinematic form and its structure. This black and white short runs under half an hour, yet manages in that small time-frame to present a devastating non-linear tale that meditates on the volatile and powerful natures of love, war, memory, life and death.
The film is one of many Marker works that considers the nature of travel–of both the physical and metaphysical varieties. In Sans Soleil a traveler traverses the world providing a sort of free-association commentary on both the intensely personal and the intensely political; in one breath the film moves from innocuous observations of the world to critiques of the political and cultural identities of an entire nation. Despite their vastly different formats–La Jetée is a short-form science fiction piece, while Sans Soleil is a 100-minute documentary travelogue–both films use the act of travel (either through time or across an actual landscape) to consider the inadequacies of memory.
Despite his obsession with memory–or perhaps because of it–Marker seemed to enjoy confusing the construction of his own historical narrative. A notoriously private man, Marker refused to be interviewed or pose for photographs. Even his birthplace is debated by scholars, as he contradicted himself numerous times on the matter. Little else of his biography is certain: he studied philosophy, worked with the French Resistance during World War II, and contributed film reviews to Cahiers du Cinéma. One can’t help but wonder if Marker hoped that in refusing to acknowledge his past he could illustrate what he elucidates so artfully in his films: that histories are constructed on hills of faulty memories.
“He wrote me: I will have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering, which is not the opposite of forgetting, but rather its lining. We do not remember, we rewrite memory much as history is rewritten. How can one remember thirst?” — Sans Soleil