#161 Sunless

Sans Soleil
(1983, Chris Marker)

“He wrote me: I will have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering”

Hi, this is Sven. I’m unable to provide today’s review and instead it will be written by an assistant of mine, based on opinions I’ve sent her in a series of letters. I’d have emailed, but, you know, I’m on holiday in the 1980s, so yeah.

He wrote to me about a film called Sans Soleil, sometimes known as Sunless depending on where you are in the world. And being in different places in the world is important to Sans Soleil, apparently, because this is an international movie about memories.

According to the many letters I’ve received, Sans Soleil is a movie that follows the thoughts of a deeply philosophical world traveller. Showing shots of various rituals and customs across the globe, it’s narrated by a woman who has supposedly received letters from this traveller, as we watch clips in Japan, in Africa, and in San Francisco, to name but a few locales this traveller visited.

He wrote me his opinions on this movie. He told me he was initially fascinated by this little movie largely because it was set primarily in Japan, a country he is incredibly interested in. It brought to mind memories of when he’d visited Japan, of when he’d fallen in love with Tokyo, and become baffled by the appearance of anime “love pillows” with protruding breasts found in arcade claw machines.

But, as he wrote me, he began to tire of Sans Soleil, purely on the basis that the movie meandered and rambled and never really seemed to stick with a consistent theme. He told me that it was very difficult trying to explain the movie in a plot summary and ended up just paraphrasing IMDb in order to include it. He wrote me that it was very difficult doing this in the 1980s where he was on holiday, but he managed it somehow.

He wrote me that the movie kept changing subject all the time, which more often than not, made it feel more like a random man’s home movies from his recent holiday around the world than any kind of statement on anything. He wrote me that it was also very hard to understand that for such a supposedly “international” movie, it was set almost entirely in Japan, with only brief scenes set in other places intercut with all the Japanese imagery. A lot of these non-Japanese scenes were disjointed, he said, and served to only confuse whatever message the movie was trying to convey.

He wrote me that he couldn’t understand why the movie would suddenly switch to Africa and stare at random women for a while, or why we got a brief synopsis of Hitchcock’s Vertigo out of nowhere (“thanks for spoiling one of my upcoming movies, Marker!” he wrote and specifically told me to quote). Nothing in the movie connected up to him.

He wrote me that some of the visual imagery and editing choices seemed baffling and odd and confusing and vexing and a number of other appropriate synonyms (he’d included a full list with his letter and told me to pick as many as I felt like using). A train ride with random cuts to scenes from Japanese horror movies, comparing people reading manga on a train with war, claiming that the video game Pac-Man made him think of death, that kind of thing. I didn’t believe him when he wrote me, but he told me to stop calling him a liar because those things are really in the movie and if I didn’t believe him that I should just watch the movie myself.

Or don’t, because, as he wrote me, the movie dragged on. It was ninety minutes, but it felt about ten hours long. Without any purpose or direction, the movie eventually became an exercise in navel-gazing and pretentiousness. It was a movie with a lot of words, he told me, but ultimately it said nothing.

He wrote me that despite seeming vaguely interesting to begin with, Sans Soleil, or Sunless, or whatever it felt like being called, eventually became a chore, and he wrote me that he became bored. He wrote me that the film was incredibly unnecessary and failed to understand why it was even made.

I get the impression he wasn’t very happy with it.

Narrated by Alexandra Stewart (English version)
Produced by Chris Marker
Written by “Sandor Krasna”
Music by “Michel Krasna”
Cinematography by “Sandor Krasna”
Editing by Chris Marker

Favourite Scene: I will admit I was a little fascinated whenever the movie talked about Japanese culture. But only then. So a tourist guide to Japan would be a better watch.
Scene That Bugged Me: Pac-Man reminds you of death, does it, Chris Marker? Really?

Watch it if: You like your pretentious essays in movie form
Avoid it if: You like documentaries to have a point to make

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Posted on March 5, 2013, in 1980s, Documentary, France and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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