“In the structure of seeing and not seeing lies the kernel of the idea of memory, of what we remember and what we forget, demonstrating how remembering and forgetting are not oppositional act but two sides of the same coin.” Janet Harbord, Chris Marker: La Jetée
“I will have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering, which is not the opposite of forgetting, but rather its lining. We do not remember, we rewrite memory much as history is rewritten. How can one remember thirst?” Chris Marker, Sans Soleil
As I write this blog post the morning after our Tuesday Evenings presentation of Sans Soleil by the French filmmaker and artist Chris Marker, I find myself struggling to remember specific details of a film that—when I finally gave in—washed over me no more than twelve hours ago. This is, of course, somewhat ironic given Marker’s theme of memory and its relationship to remembering. However, I do recall and take comfort in the Sans Soleil quote cited above.
Having previewed the film before we screened it, last night was my second viewing, and I still had to remind myself to stop trying to think my way through it. Marker does the thinking for you in this essay film with a brilliantly poetic script that leads you through his travels and subsequent insights. My notes scribbled in the dark while watching Marker’s travelogue-like film reveal the elation I experienced: “beautifully shot,” “sound moves in and out,” “colors are evocative,” “there is an ordinariness here that makes me aware of the western European as other,” “the letter format is brilliant for the poetry and the story of the film,” “the transitions are stunning . . .”
Throughout, letters journaling a cameraman’s travels between Africa and Japan, with other destinations such as Iceland thrown in on occasion, are read by their recipient, a nameless woman who occasionally offers personal observations of her intriguing pen pal. For example, at the end of the film, she shares, “He writes me from Japan. He writes me from Africa. He writes that he can now summon up the look on the face of the market lady of Praia that had lasted only the length of a film frame.” All of us sitting there last night, and recalling the film today, can summon up “the look on the face” regardless of what else we have forgotten. Her face was meant to stay with us. Marker seems to offer opportunities for memory, such as the three children on a road in Iceland who open the film only to later graft themselves in as the film is drawing to a close. The recurrence of those blonde heads served to trigger a replay of the entire film as it had formed/been rewritten in the individual memories of those attending this very special Tuesday Evenings presentation. While there can be no podcast of a film, I encourage those intrigued by reading this post to take advantage of any opportunity to see Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil in the future. In addition, there are numerous resources on Chris Marker, his films, and his art. I found Sorting Facts: or, Nineteen Ways of Looking at Marker by the poet Susan Howe particularly inspiring and Chris Marker: La Jetée by Janet Harbord beautifully informative.
Image credit: Chris Marker, Sans Soleil, 1983, film still