La Jetee

La Jetee's protagonist is an un-named man with a boyhood memory. This memory haunts his dreams, especially the face of a woman who becomes his main motivation. In personality he is an everyman, moral but not especially gifted. He is passive in his actions, merely following orders until the end, but he is always in a state of lounging for the woman both of his memory and of his travels to pre-war Paris. It is this desire for a solace unattainable that gives emotional momentum. The antagonist comes in the form of a leader. This man is described as "a victor ... ruling over a kingdom of rats" that is french society after the nuclear fallout of WWIII. Though his mannerisms are amicable, his concern is only with power and his societies survival.

The film begins with a memory of modern day Paris, but quickly moves to the future setting of the film of post WWIII Paris. These two worlds, pre- and post-war, are continuously juxtaposed through time travel, making time always in flux while setting remains fixed to the city, with the exception of a brief journey to a future society on another planet. The event that starts the story rolling, after the memory and WWIII are established, is the protagonists being selected for time travel experiment. It is central to the story's theme that it is his personal memory that gets him caught in the situation in the first place. The action is carried forward on emotional terms as the protagonist encounters his memory woman and establishes a romance in subsequent visits. Once the antagonist feels he is ready to travel to the future, the plot begins to role to it's end. The protagonist returns from the future with salvation in hand, establishing the climax. The antagonist will be able to keep control of society and the protagonist is offered a life in the distant future. But of course he declines in favor of a life with his love interest in the past. The final scene begins with joy but ends with a plummet into tragedy. The protagonist Is shown running to meet his lover on the same pier of his boyhood memory, only to be shot and killed by one of the antagonists cronies.

The still images that make up La Jetee's visuals are more center to the statement than the plot or character development. Their beauty and often stark compositions create a foreboding mood well suited to the post-apocalyptic setting and the theme of memory. The film is a comment on memory and the detachment of history as revealed by photography. Every experience is made removed from the protagonist, as if his entire life were a dream. This is why the only moment of live action takes place in bed with his lover, where life briefly becomes lived rather than observed. The use of still images in combination with the plot create a poetic comment on alienation.

While the music and sounds enriched my experience, I found the narration to be dry and often distracting. It may be asking too much, but I would have preferred the story had it been told through pictures alone, though it's complexity makes this near impossible. Other criticisms are the non-personality of the love interest, who seems to have no opinion of this time traveling stranger, the lack of explanation for the protagonist's murder, and the cheesy dots of the foreheads of the future citizens. With these exceptions, I found La Jetee to be an beautiful and original film whose influence is undeniable.

As with all artful films, the aspect that most engages me is it's pacing. The amount of time given to each still image is crucial to maintaining mood and energy. While the art of photography is new to me and there is much I can learn from any developed photographer, the sense of pacing is a talent I can extract right now.


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