Chris Marker’s 1962 28-minute La Jetée is a masterpiece in unconventional delivery. It’s a post-apocalyptic story of memory, love and time travel told in bleak narration through a series of grainy monochromatic stills, giving the film a surreal effect appropriate to the subject. Trevor Duncan’s haunting score employs appropriately placed ambient noises, reverberations, voice and sound effects.
The story follows a man chosen to be a lab-rat in time-travel experiments devised by scientists living underground below a post-World War III radioactive Paris. Most interestingly, the vehicle for traversing time is not a machine, but the use of hypnosis, memories and drugs. The man is repeatedly sent to the past in an attempt to secure aid for the present, and eventually to the future, where he finds it. The heart of the plot revolves around a memory of a shooting that the man witnessed as a young boy, his obsession with the distraught woman who was present at the scene and the man’s efforts reconcile his memories with reality.
To sum it up, if Ingmar Bergman had directed an episode of The Twilight Zone with a broken camera… Incidentally, and almost always noted, La Jetée was the inspiration behind Terry Gilliam’s monumental time-travel feature, Twelve Monkeys.