Chris Marker: Le Jetée

La jetée (English: The Jetty and The Pier) (1962) is a 28-minute black and white science fiction film by Chris Marker. Constructed almost entirely from still photos, it tells the story of a post-nuclear war experiment in time travel.

In the movie, the survivors of a destroyed Paris in the aftermath of World War III live underground in the Palais de Chaillot galleries. They research time travel, hoping to send someone back before the devastating war to recover food, medicine, or energy for the present, “to summon the past and future to the aid of the present.” The traveler is a male prisoner; his vague but obsessive childhood memory of witnessing a woman (Hélène Chatelain) during a violent incident on the boarding platform (“The Jetty”) at Orly Airport is used as the key to his journey back in time. He is thrown back to the past again and again. He repeatedly meets and speaks to the woman who was present at the terminal. After his successful passages to the past, the experimenters attempt to send him into the deep future. In a brief meeting with the technologically advanced people of the future, he is given a power unit sufficient to regenerate his own destroyed society.

On his return, he is cast aside by his jailers to die. Before he can be executed, he is contacted by the people of the future, who offer to help him escape to their time, but he asks to be returned to the time of his childhood. He is returned, only to find the violent incident he partially witnessed as a child was his own death as an adult.

La jetée has no dialogue aside from small sections of muttering in German; the story is told by a voice-over narrator. It is constructed almost entirely from optically printed photographs playing out as a photomontage of varying pace. It contains only one brief shot originating on a motion-picture camera. The stills were taken with a Pentax 24×36 and the motion-picture segment was shot with a 35mm Arriflex. The film score was composed by Trevor Duncan. (wikipedia)

(originally posted on 1/10/07):

Today we watched Chris Marker’s Le Jette – ON FILM – this was a surprise to know that the school has a copy. You probably are wondering what’s the difference? Well we were able to watch the film the way that it was created and not transfer to vhs or dvd – the noise of the projector is all part of the experience. So this was our major transition from the still to the moving image. The film 12 Monkeys gives credit to Le Jetee as inspiration. Any thoughts?

13 thoughts on “Chris Marker: Le Jetée

  1. after seeing Le Jetee for the first time, I ran out and saw 12 monkeys again. There were 2 parts from what I remember which are undeniable that they are from Le Jetee. I saw the movie much differently after seeing Le Jetee than I did before hand.

  2. I must also note that seeing this film…on FILM was a treat. I hope everyone else who saw the FILM noted the difference and comprehended that most people at this time will never have the pleasure of that experience.

  3. The most amazing thing about this film is that it can be viewed without any sound. But it is also very beautiful none the less with the narration. Thinking about how integral sound and music are in today’s films that for this one to be so complex and interesting without, just makes it that much more incredible.

  4. It was very interesting to see what a “movie” would be like made from still (or somewhat) images and little to no sound. I think the plot is pretty original, especially because of the time it was made. I think it was a bit disjointed though, and a bit hard to make connections from one scene to another. You never really understood if he was just imagining it or not, because we never know if he actually ever leaves the cot the doctors have placed him in.

  5. It would be interesting to know the art-field and historical contexts in which the film was made. I did some research and the Cuban Missile Crisis maybe some what linked with the story. I would really appreciate some more information into the context’s, if anyone possibly knows this information or knows where to find it could they please email me at

    Much appreciated.

  6. This is the first time I’ve seen the film of La Jetee, though I’ve seen references to it over the years. (For instance, the video for David Bowie’s “Jump They Say” draws images from the film.)

    It seems more advanced or modern than 1962, the year in which it was made.

  7. After watching La Jette for the first time I was surprised at the complexity of the story even though there was no sound. The plot was very original. When I first heard it was made up of still pictures I thought it would be difficult to follow but after watching it I found it was very compelling. I look forward to viewing 12 Monkeys.

  8. I found my mind wandering at times during the viewing of La Jetee. I was really struck by the impact of the story, and how it could not have been told in the form of a moving video. It made me consider a time before television, where radio shows were the main form of entertainment. How La Jetee could have been merely a radio show and still been a great experience. Previous to seeing the film I imagined a compilation of found images. Yet the film contained all the elements of a live action film. There was a set and actors and the images would have taken as much planing as any shots in a moving picture. This really impressed me. I then had to consider why a movie would be done entirely in still photos.

    It creates a different experience which is somewhere between a picture book, a radio theater show, and a movie. La Jetee, truly invented a new way to experience a story, and really made me question what elements make up a good story.

    Because of La Jetee I am currently contemplating this question:
    Why have all our modern movies become so action packed? It seems like modern pop movies are on crack!

  9. I had never heard of La Jetee before viewing it in class. The images were strong and the sound complemented them nicely. La Jetee gave me a couple idea’s for potential videos in the future.

  10. While watching La Jetee I was a bit confused about what was actually going on. This was the first film I have ever seen in the form on Photo montage, but it was presented very tastefully. After seeing the film I sat down to read more about the plot of the film, this is where everything came together. What a beautiful and powerful film!

  11. One thing about this film I found very intriguing is the “hero” watched himself die as a little boy. The movie came full circle because it started with his death and ended with his death.
    I didn’t think sills put together would be as entertaining as it was. I felt like I was watching a movie, except it was more unique and interesting.
    I read an article in FILM QUARTERLY by Bruce Kawin about La Jetee. Kawin commented on the parallels between film stills and time. No matter how hard the hero tries he can’t break into continous movement.
    Kawin comments:
    “There is one weight shift per still, giving the impression of turgidity . . . and of an intense attempt to break into movement. But the stills are separated by straight cuts, not joined by dissolves. He is locked in a series of stills.”
    Then he realizes “one cannot escape from time.”

  12. When I found the article that I e-mailed to Adriane, I found it interesting that they were discussing how the picture slideshow could be interpreted as how some view memories. Some are so vague, that they only can be recalled as a still.

  13. I was delighted to see La Jetee. My notes as we watched it in our summer class include the note to myself, “reminds me of 12 monkeys.” In the final scene I was frustrated at having seen 12 monkeys already because once we returned to the airport I knew what would happen. I greatly enjoyed how effective the stills acted to tell the story with the sound editing. My imagination filled in the movement because the sound was so supportive. This with the photos provided just enough information to allow me to fill in the rest in my mind.

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