Director: Chris Marker
Production: Argos Films; colour; running time: 100 minutes.
Chris Marker, Sana na N'hada, Jean-Michel Humeau, Mario Marret,
Eugenio Bentivoglio, Danièle Tessier, Haroun Tazieff;
music (electronic sounds):
Gauthier, G., Revue du Cinéma (Paris), February 1983.
Jeancolas, J.P., "Le monde à la lettre," in Positif (Paris), February 1983.
Amiel, M., Cinéma (Paris), March 1983.
Lardeau, Y., "L'empire des mots," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), March 1983.
Marker, Chris, "Reécrire la mémoire," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), March 1983.
Variety (New York), 13 April 1983.
Martineau, R., Séquences (Paris), April 1984.
Jenkins, Steve, "Sans Soleil (Sunless), " in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), July 1984.
Rafferty, Terrence, "Marker Changes Trains," in Sight and Sound , Autumn 1984.
Biro, Yvette, "In the Spiral of Time," in Millennium Film Journal , Autumn-Winter 1984–85.
Eisen, K., Cineaste (New York), 1985.
Casebier, A., "A Deconstructive Documentary," in Journal of Film and Video (New York), Winter 1988.
Rouch, J., and others, "Culture and Representation," in Undercut , no. 17, Spring 1988.
Michael Walsh, "Around the World, Across All Frontiers: Sans Soleil as Depays," in CineAction (Toronto), Autumn 1989.
Wilmott, G., "Implications for a Sartrean Radical Medium: From Theatre to Cinema," in Discourse (Detroit), no. 12.2, Spring-Summer 1990.
Bluemlinger, C., "Futur anterieur," in Iris , no. 19, Autumn 1995.
Kohn, Olivier, "Chris Marker," in Positif (Paris), no. 433, March 1997.
Kohn, O., "Si loin, si proche," in Positif (Paris), no. 433, March 1997.
Jousse, Thierry, "Trois vidéos et un CD-ROM autour de Chris Marker," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 515, July-August 1997.
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Almost impossible to synopsise, Sans Soleil has been described by Michael Walsh as "surely among the most physically beautiful, the most inventively edited, and the most texturally sophisticated of recent European films." Yvette Biro described the film as "a sort of Gesamtkunstwerk which defies the conventional pose between the 'raw and the cooked,' that is: document and fiction, but also between word and image; unclassifiable as all his former films, Sans Soleil appears as a summary of Marker's long travellings."
Put at its simplest, the film takes the form of a series of letters, from an imaginary cameraman ("Sandor Krasna") to an equally
As Michael Walsh has noted, the elaborate montage patterns in Sans Soleil "proceed now by theme, now by association, now by disposition in the frame, now by camera angle, now by screen direction. Such matches leap audaciously across cuts from Japan to Iceland to Holland, from original to borrowed to found footage, from film to television to video." Perhaps the most impressive sequence in a film full of impressive sequences is the one in which "Krasna" imagines "a single film made of the dreams of people on trains," and sleeping passengers on the Tokyo underground are provided with a kaleidoscope of images from the previous night's television as their "dreams." Another theme that provides for a whole series of montage-based variations ( Sans Soleil , with its title borrowed from Mussorgsky's song cycle of the same name, is nothing if not musical, and more specifically, fugal, in form) is that of commemoration. This unites footage both of historical events and images of the "mediating animals" (and especially of the "maniki neko" cat) that Marker finds all over Tokyo. As Terrence Rafferty has observed: "Japan seems one huge festival of commemoration, a precise reflection of the mood of the traveller who's left so many places, people, political movements behind, but kept bits of them on film, notes which have lost their immediacy, things which have stopped moving but inspire in him the desire to reanimate them at the editing table the only way available to him to commemorate the things that have quickened his heart."
The concern with memory is also at the heart of Sans Soleil 's fascination with Vertigo (the only film "capable of portraying impossible memory, insane memory"). Utilising a combination of stills and refilmed locations, the film itself seems to enter the famous spirals of Saul Bass's title sequence, giving us an impression of "time covering a field ever wider as it moved away, a cyclone whose present moment contains motionless—the eye." As Steve Jenkins has suggested, Sans Soleil is, in the end, a film about time travel and, like Marker's earlier La Jetée (1964), has elements of science fiction about it. However, Jenkins concludes: "Marker avoids the romantic pessimism which so often inflects both speculative fantasy and self-reflexivity. He attacks our present understanding of images, while at the same time exploring optimistic possibilities for the future. Whilst most filmmakers are crawling towards 2001, barely emerging from the nineteenth century, Marker is running on ahead."