SUNLESS (Chris Marker, 1982)

Taking its title from an 1874 cycle of Mussorgsky songs, Chris Marker’s Sans soleil bounds over four continents in its anthropological, philosophical travelogue combining documentary materials. Marker interrelates numerous issues, including space, time, memory, history, computers, street festivals and commemorations, appearance versus reality, such as in a public ceremony that projects political unity when in fact contrary feelings, suppressed from view, will eventually erupt into a violent change of leadership. Filmmaker and friend Jean-Pierre Gorin has called the film “a grand map of how the imaginary functions,” and summarizes its theme as “what it means to be human” in our time.
     Different things fascinate Marker’s eye: Japanese girls, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), happiness and unhappiness, cats (real and sculpted ones of all kinds), eyes. “We do not remember,” Marker suggests. “We rewrite memory, much as history is rewritten.” Moreover, Hayao Yamaneko contributes special effects that digitize filmed images, distorting their appearance—or, do I mean, distorting their reality? Or, showing the truth?
     This is indeed a film that variously, and intriguingly, plays with its materials. (Remembering, we are told, is not the opposite of forgetting but, rather, its lining.) The film opens and closes with an image of three children, walking on an Iceland road, that supposedly crystallizes happiness; but the black blank screen with which the image is occasionally interrupted leaves us uncertain as to what the “meaning” is. The entire film is structured as a series of letters read aloud by their recipient; the fictitious author, Sandor Krasna, has shot the images that the disembodied voiceover conjures for us in her recitations. We are at a tourist’s remove from what we see; yet any moment we may become a part of what is visible, seduced by what Lévi-Strauss calls “the poignancy of things.”

B(U)Y THE BOOK

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