Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Review: La Jetée

La Jetée (1962)

A man from a post-apocalyptic future is sent back in time against his will to seek aid for his people only to fall in love with a woman from the past and mixed in with this are the mysterious events surrounding a shooting that the man witnessed as a child.

La Jetée is one of those bizarre fruits of the 1960s, the avant garde French film.  That mean's it's all terribly and self-consciously experimental.  With a running time of less than 30 minutes, it isn't exactly a feature film and since it's made up almost entirely of stills with a droning narration, it isn't so much a film as a mid-20th century attempt to anticipate the PowerPoint presentation.

Like a lot of French films of the time, this one got all sorts of praise and commentary for its innovation.  It's been called a cinematic short story, but that's nonsense.  Rod Serling and Alfred Hitchcock filmed short stories.  That's what their television careers were about.  This is more like a filmed story synopsis, since the stills are nothing but a photographic storyboard of an actual feature and the narration is nothing but a monotone outline of events without description, dialogue or any inner life revealed.  If you've read the first paragraph of this review, you know everything about La Jetée except the ending, which isn't too hard to figure out.

Speaking of Hitchcock, the thing that annoys me about the avant garde is how infernally lazy that load of young louts running about with their hand-held cameras and Gauloises were.  I don't have much time for flim school students who lifted tricks from Hitchcock and, instead of using them as Hitchcock did as a tool for story telling, shoved them individually upstage and centre as if they'd done something clever.

Worse, they always made a big thing about being "experimental".  Don't get me wrong, I'm all for experimentation in cinema, but if you are experimenting, kindly go off and do so in private and call me when you're ready to make a proper film. Until then, I have no interest in your rushes, test footage or other refugees from the Extras section of a DVD.  Putting a title card in front of your playing with your new box of filters and calling it "art" doesn't make it so.

La Jetée is a good example of this self-indulgence.  Terry Gilliam remade it in the '90s as Twelve Monkeys and because I've never bought the DVD, I have no idea what his tests look like and I'm happier for it. 

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