A “Photographic” Memory: An Analysis of “La Jetée” and the “Left Bank”

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Welcome back Christian’s Cinematic Syntax! Hopefully these entries are leaving those lasting impressions that Chris Marker refers to in the film I’m looking at today, La Jetée!

After taking a brief hiatus…I am back! Back to remind the reader of the power and beauty of cinematic expression. With that said, I am moving forward into the crevasse of cinema to allow for the spirit and essence of the art form to be understood and appreciated. I want the reader to understand cinema’s ability to channel and freeze a perspective into something that connects the viewer to an almost metaphysical level.

In the spirit, I am excited to dissect La Jetée, the 28-minute master-work by Chris Marker, a talent that stretches the title of the conventional filmmaker. Marker has an incredible versatility through the art form, being a documentarian, a photographer, and a multimedia artist. The titles that Marker totes are of importance to not only the context of La Jetée, but also of the film movement he is typically categorized in, known as the “Left Bank.” So, before analyzing a film such as La Jetée, I believe it is necessary to introduce some of my readers to this specific movement in cinema.

What is the “Left Bank?”

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Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: Faith and “Ordet”

Editor’s Note: Below is an essay written by Film Blogger Christian Mietus, covering the themes of faith within Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1955 film, Ordet. Mietus originally wrote the piece for his Intro to Film Studies class with Jet Fuel Review‘s very own Dr. Simone Muench. Spoilers follow.

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Ordet (or “The Word” in English) is a Danish film that was directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer in 1955. Dreyer is known for directing some of the world’s most praised arthouse films, such as The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), Vampyr (1932), and Day of Wrath (1943).  Although he receives this praise today, his films were never financial successes until Ordet’s release, which could be attributed to a variety of reasons, specifically the film being an incredibly meticulous mastery of the craft by Dreyer and cinematographer Henning Bendtsen.

Dreyer’s body of work has many themes that are represented in many fashions. For example, in a Senses of Cinema article written by Thomas Beltzer, he writes, “In Dreyer’s films … It is always a faith well placed because the spiritual realm is as present and real as the material realm, and both are completely interwoven.” In Ordet, the themes of faith and the fantastical realm are interwoven into the mortal realm through the tragic death of Inger Borgen (Birgitte Federspiel), as well as through the actions of characters including Morten Borgen (Henrik Malberg), Johannes (Preben Lerdorff Rye), and Mikkel Borgen (Emil Hass Christensen) — all emphasized through dialogue, mise en scène, and precise cinematography.

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Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: “Pickpocket”

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“My movie is born first in my head, dies on paper; is resuscitated by the living persons and real objects I use, which are killed on film but, place in a certain order and projected onto a screen, come to life again like flowers in water.”
— Robert Bresson, Notes on the Cinematographer

The 1959 film directed by Robert Bresson, Pickpocket, is a mosaic of human complexity as much as it is a defiance of morality through a character that is uncertain of life. The film is incredibly literary in its executions — being heavily inspired by Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment —with a director puppeteering his actors to escape his opinion of superficiality and including a main character that narrates throughout. Relating to my previous post on the auteur theory, Bresson was one of the directors that these theorists actually admired. He has a distinct presentation of his philosophy in his films, making him a quintessential image of an auteur. Pickpocket is no exception.

The Bressonian style emerges with its presentation of  lifestyle, specifically one of a person who identifies with the profession of a pickpocket. The image of this specific pickpocket is what Bresson and his cinematographer, Léonce-Henri Burel, present through exceptional camerawork, which consists of tightly framed close-ups that make the viewer pay witness to these crimes. The camera also places no negative opinion on these crimes, being indifferent to these sequences and allowing the audience to create a positive or negative judgement.

*Spoilers ahead*

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Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: Auteur Spotlight and Theory Explanation

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This week on “Christian’s Cinematic Syntax,” a new addition to my film journal has emerged through my reflection upon cinematic theory. I have always been interested in theories of cinema and the many aspects that have shaped its history. Consequently, I want to highlight a theory as a way to inform and apply it, within the parameters it created. I want to allow my readers to learn about a piece of cinema history, and appreciate a famed director, Michelangelo Antonioni, through the lens of an auteur theorist. Without further delay, let us explore the nature of the auteur theory.

“That is why I would like to call this new age of cinema the age of camera-stylo (camera-pen).” — Alexandre Astruc  

Background on the theory: The auteur theory is a French film theory in which the director is considered the author (auteur) of their film. Since the theory states that the main authorship of a film is given solely to the director, we see that the theory developed cinema, calling it a reflection of an artist’s vision. The auteur theory differs from others, such as the formalist theory, because of the importance it places on a single creator. The originators of this theory are André Bazin and Roger Leenhardt, who, in the 1940s, founded a film magazine called Cahiers du Cinema, which was vocal about the director’s importance in cinema.

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Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: “Audition”

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For my final review of October, Takashi Miike’s Audition (1999) is going “under the knife” to receive a proper dissection — this dissection being necessary to finalize our horror timeline, and to bring the intent to fruition. Audition is another psychological horror (akin to my previous review for Jacob’s Ladder), but with elements of a thriller and “sadistic horror.” The “sadistic horror” elements being the film’s most influential and most “revered” moments, although, they only occur in the latter half of the film.

In comparison to the other film’s I’ve written about this month, Audition‘s filmic elements are more subdued. The film emphasizes climactic horror, with a build-up in narrative that is far from anything else in the horror genre. In addition, this build-up is slow-paced with an atmosphere heavily dependent on the sets and the somber score, showing a difference of extremity between the first and second halves (romantic half/horror half). These two halves have versatility, having the ability to stand alone as separate entities and, I would argue, as separate films.

I believe this type of horror film is an embodiment of a Venn diagram, in my mind, with the  “halves” being one of most obvious contrasts within the film. Even so, I believe the Japanese film poster is indicating such, with the wire being in the shape of one and having Shigeharu Aoyama placed on one side of it.  

*Spoilers ahead*   

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Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: “Jacob’s Ladder”

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Next up on the horror docket are the sub-genres of psychological and surrealist horror. These are some of my personal favorites in horror, which made them inevitable for dissection this month. With that said, I had to choose a film that incorporated both of these two sub-genres to discuss them. So I searched through my memory and had an immediate revelation that Jacob’s Ladder (1990), directed by Adrian Lyne and starring Tim Robbins, was the film to display such genres. The reason was simple: I had a fond memory of this film and was stricken by its elements the moment I saw it. So this made me not only want to review it, but I wanted to understand the film. I wanted to understand why the film had such a powerful effect on me and the average viewer in general.

To define these genres briefly: psychological horror is a film that deals with the psyche of characters in order to horrify (ex. A person devolving into madness). Surrealism is a genre that relies more on imagery or experiences that are out of this world (ex. Creature being cared for as if an ordinary child).   

*Spoilers ahead*

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Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: “The Fly”

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”I’m saying I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over and the insect is awake.”

For the second review of horror month, I have decided to look upon a variation of the horror genre, exploring the sub-genre of “body horror.” Body horror deals with bodily change, being of transformation, destruction, etc. Body horror focuses more on the physical being of the character to create horror rather than, for example, the use of shadows.

Perhaps the most famous body horror director is David Cronenberg, who directed Naked Lunch, Scanners, and Videodrome, all of which are a part of the genre. He also directed The Fly (1986), which may very well be his quintessential work, with the incredible practical effects displaying a maturation of technique. The film does not play the body horror genre with extremity. Rather, it uses pacing and subtly to truly introduce its horrific events.  

*Spoilers ahead*

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