Film Recommendation: La Jetée

La Jetée (1962) is a 28-minute “photo-roman” (photo-novel) by French New-Wave director Chris Marker. It is composed entirely of still photographs which are arranged into a montage and, as a result, come to acquire a special movement of their own.

The film is set in a post-apocalyptic Paris where all surviving humans live together in tunnels underneath the city. Scientists are researching time travel in the hopes that they can send for help from the past or future.

After many failed attempts at sending test subjects into the past, an unnamed prisoner with vivid childhood recollections is selected and succeeds. After painful conditioning and several deep dives into his own memories, he is eventually sent to the future where he encounters a new kind of human race.

Pushing against genre conventions, La Jetée is science fiction stripped down to its bare essentials- the result is a beautiful interrogation of time, memory, and the power of the image.

This is a great, and short, film for beginner or intermediate learners to practice comprehension; the audio is very clear because it is a stream of overlaid narration, and the nature of the still frames makes the subtitles more accessible.

For those interested in learning more about French film history, La Jetée is a great example of pioneering techniques in montage used by directors of La Nouvelle Vague to disrupt traditional cinematic forms.

La Jetée is available to stream on Kanopy by using your Reed login