Sans Soleil (Chris Marker, 1983)

Sans Soleil is an amazing visual object, as simple as it is complex, a large canvas where tracks seem to be launched in all directions, reflections, multiple bridges between themes, places and time but where everything seems to turn in a concentric circle around a central message. It is a beautiful, fascinating enigma that quickly puts the viewer in an unstable and uncommon position: a voice-over that is reminiscent of a novelistic (read: multifarious) comments on real images, plunges us into a kind of documentary fiction or documentary- fiction whose purpose is of a rare depth, of a real and haunting influence.

Hard to stay passive. We are caught, weaving meaning to hold down and not drown in this stream gushing, clinging to the bits of meaning, taking what is to take to move forward … Does this mean that it is an incomprehensible and chaotic work? No, on the contrary, it is a real pleasure: one lends itself to the exercise because the message subjugates and the way to go seems to land somewhere. At least it would be necessary to admit that it is a demanding work, especially because it asks that one lets oneself be trained like on a swell. Kind of a miracle if you look at it like that: nothing is exhausted, you lend yourself to it with naive happiness, like one of these Icelandic children. This seems contradictory: what could this work be, where it would be necessary to be both attentive and demanding, to be active and to “weave meaning”, and at the same time to let oneself finally be carried along like a swell, simply, smoothly?

This may be due to the intrinsic duality of this filmic object, which plays on the passive and the active, the past and the present, the virtual and the real, complexity and simplicity. The first opaque quote immediately gives us the tone: “The remoteness of the countries somehow repairs the too close proximity of the times”. Doubtful mood … After viewing, some tracks, however, light up: what is “too close to the times”, if not layers of culture that intermingle too quickly in the memory of men?

Because, says Marker, human history is a torrent: a torrent of men, a torrent of facts, a torrent of cultures, a torrent of history, but whose water is no other than time. Also this flood of knowledge and history supported in the frame of time is, intrinsically, a flood of oblivion in power. To answer them, Marker seems to say, would perhaps be by stitching pictures and making them talk. Human culture is a culture of life and death, of appearance and erasure. Quickly born, quickly forgotten. Time is a chasm through which we have the duty to take pictures to shine a little longer. But why the hell this momentum?

The answer seems to be woven into the very material of the film, it is a sort of philanthropy that is part of art making: Marker looks at men first and foremost because he knows that his art knows how to make those who do not have a voice speak. The intermingled bodies begin to speak, the sleepers on the buses, say their wanderings. As the flow of image on television must be able to speak too, to say something, the women on the markets risk taking a look at us, to tell us that they have a voice. We understand why the Japanese culture, to which the author pays a tribute, lends itself well to this little game: people movement and stillness, it always oscillates between minimalism (prayer, for example, and the few images a tribe doomed to disappear) and excess (fury of television, the crowd, images, fury of video games, noises …) and allows Marker to seek to give a face and a voice to what seems to quickly evaporate in time.

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