This film is not only a seminal time travel film, but also one of the seminal avant-garde films to come from France during the 1960’s. It presents the idea of film and time travel in a whole different light, at least for the time, and if you haven’t seen it at least once in your life, you are missing out.
It might be a little difficult for some people to get into this film. It’s foreign, it’s in black and white, and it’s comprised of still photos. It’s also only about 26 minutes long. But if you can get over that initial hurdle, I think this a great piece of science fiction and film.
Directed by Chris Marker, La Jetée tells the story of future civilization that live underground in Paris after World War III. One man is chosen to gather information from the the past about the disease that wiped mankind out. He is the best candidate based on his strong visual memories of a woman from his childhood that he saw on the jetée (pier) at Orly airport. He also remembers seeing a man die at that time as well. From there we follow our protagonist as he pops in and out of this woman’s life (much like The Time Traveller’s Wife).
At this time, fans of the genre might be able to guess where the film goes. 12 Monkeys was modeled after this film, using this short film as a backbone to flesh out the characters. But I think I can categorically say that La Jetée was groundbreaking and unexpected when it was released.
Not only was the subject matter groundbreaking, but the use of still photos, in a motion picture that deals with time travel, is an amazing idea that was extremely cutting edge. The transitions used between the photos, cuts vs. fades, are done in a way to suggest movement, or time travel. It’s hard to believe that this film came out only two years after The Time Machine. It seems more like a film that would be from the 1980’s or later. It still feels relevant!
If you want to check out the film, it’s on YouTube. Unfortunately it’s narration is in the original French, and the subtitles are in Spanish. Netflix rents the Criterion version, which is dubbed in English.
Also this film is the #1 Time Travel film as decided by Time Magazine back in March of 2010.