Sans Soleil (1982), a post modernist essay film

Sans Soleil (1982), a film by Chris Marker, seems to have missed all the real purposes of a documentary film: Truth Telling, Propaganda, Direct Cinema, and Cinema Verite. In fact, Sans Soleil, although categorized as a documentary, is really an essay film focused on the concepts of time, space, reality and memories.  Through out the film, various fragments of memories is played back to the audience as the primary narrator reads a letter or recall certain memories. The memories shown ranged from the sightings of life in Africa to the impressions of a bustling Tokyo city, with the three children of the narrator serving as the opening and closing shot. Upon first view, it is hard to grasp any plot to the film, however, through careful observation, a theme and perhaps author’s artistic message can be interpreted and understood.

The video taken for the film are all real people and real places, this fact determined that it is to be categorized as a documentary. As for the narrations, it is most likely the director’s added conceptual piece aiding to the video images. This added poetry is what makes this film an essay film.  Together with the images and narration, the film is shown in a montage of intersecting memories. These memories are somewhat striking, never dull or like “everyday life”. The sight of Africa is a fresh view of life for many audiences, the weird Japanese culture also proved interesting to the curious crowd. A few scene proved quite shocking, like the raw image of a dead child covered with maggots and the scenery of raw animal sexes. These imagery are striking because they are real, they are not some fake fictional production. Everytime I recall those segments of the movie, I get a sicken stomach. But I guess for the narrator, it is an impressive sight as well in their life. It is therefore safe to assume that this film is about fragments of life, a poetry of the memory we retain of impressive things. And with the three children, a female narrator and a male mail sender, we can assume this is the memory of the family. The directory’s main idea however, is clearly defined in the second to last narration:

“Then I went down into the basement where my friend—the maniac—busies himself with his electronic graffiti. Finally his language touches me, because he talks to that part of us which insists on drawing profiles on prison walls. A piece of chalk to follow the contours of what is not, or is no longer, or is not yet; the handwriting each one of us will use to compose his own list of ‘things that quicken the heart,’ to offer, or to erase. In that moment poetry will be made by everyone, and there will be emus in the ‘zone.'” –

Alas confirmed by the master himself, this film as intended by the director is a poetry of the scenes that “quicken the heart” from our memory, that were either to be forgotten or retained. And indeed, If I was the narrator, I will try to forget the dead child, and the weird images of animal sexual fetishes. But I would retain images of my children, like the director did having the children shot serving as both opening and closure as if they’re the most important. In the end, this film feels human, it sees human and it describes human. It is human, for the memories are human.

I can’t help but wonder does this little Japanese girl realize that she has been immortalized by this film?

Sources: : Chris Marker : Sans Soleil. Retrieved April 3, 2011, from

Sans Soleil. Retrieved April 3, 2011, from Cinema Image Gallery database

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About reganwu

Media History 146 Student @ QC
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