Another sick day, nothing much to do, so it’s time to knock another long-neglected review out, right?
Well, this time around we had probably the nearest we’ve come to having a “feature” film for our short (the other instances coming to mind being the two times we had full Twilight Zone episodes for shorts) so there’s good reason to give 1962’s La Jetée (by Chris Marker) some extra prominence.
For those who don’t know La Jetée is a French-made 28-minute short film, almost entirely made up of still photos, whose storyline was basically lifted to create 12 Monkeys. So if you haven’t seen 12 Monkeys and would like to, I’d recommend against reading the review as it will spoil the crap out of those simians.
It is the story of a man marked by a violent image from his childhood which he would only come to understand much later. He was taken to the terminal pier (the Jetée) at Orly airport to watch the planes take off and land. He was transfixed by the face of a beautiful woman and while meditating on her, he was suddenly interrupted by the horror of a man being shot and killed. Soon afterwards, Paris was destroyed in a nuclear war.
The survivors of the war moved underground to avoid the radioactivity of the surface. The child grows up a prisoner, and when he becomes an adult, he is subjected to time travel experiments with the intent of drawing assistance from the future to the doomed citizens beneath Paris. These experiments had typically failed due to the strain placed on the human mind, but our hero is selected because he has a strong mental fixation on a vision from his past – the beautiful woman at Orly. It is believed that this fixation might allow him to successfully travel through time.
The experiments proceed slowly, but more and more images begin to come through for him, including images which might be the woman from his visions. Finally, after over a month of experimentation, he is able to travel back to the pre-war days. He meets her and is able to experience pieces of life with her, snapshots of time spent together as it were. These experiences seem to last for minutes or tens of minutes, and then he slips back to his own present.
She calls him her “ghost”. In one remarkable scene, Marker shows her lying in bed, quickly alternating nearly identical pictures which gives the nearest impression of motion the film has seen so far, and then – one three-second film shot of her opening her eyes before the movie returns to still shots for good. It’s beautiful, transfixing, brilliant, and it simultaneously represents a breakthrough in the time travel process.
Following the breakthrough, his captors begin to send him to the future where he makes contact with the people and brings back technology that was needed to save Paris. However, he realizes that he will be killed by his captors now that he is no longer useful to them.
The people from the future offer to bring him to the future with them, but he opts instead to go back to the past with the beautiful woman. He finds himself on the Jetée and realizes that his young child self must be there. He finds the woman…
He ran toward her. And when he recognized the man who’d trailed him from the camp, he realized there was no escape out of time, and that that moment he’d been granted to see as a child, and that had obsessed him forever after… was the moment of his own death.
Despite the rich short, we still got to have a feature-length presentation as well – Carol Reed‘s 1949 film noir classic The Third Man. My recollection of The Third Man is that it had a pretty complicated plot and that it loved the zither. We’ll see how that pans out when watching it again.
Yep. Zither from the start. It is the post-war black-market period in Vienna, and the city is split into the American, British, Russian, and French quarters as well as the international center. Down on his luck drunkard American author Holly Martins has come to Vienna, offered a job by his old friend Harry Lime. But when he arrives he finds that Harry Lime has just been killed – hit by a car. Holly is only in time for his funeral.
Holly gets a ride back from the funeral from a man named Calloway who turns out to be a local British Major, and he shatters Holly’s perceptions of his friend, telling him that Lime was a racketeer and very likely a murderer. A drunken Holly doesn’t take this very gracefully, and ends up getting punched by another soldier who proceeds to compliment his books in a very British fashion.
Holly sets out to clear Lime’s name and to determine whether he was murdered with the help of Lime’s Austrian friend Baron Kurtz, who starts by describing the accident scene – a bit inconsistently. Kurtz says that he and Lime were alone with a Romanian named Popescu at the time of the accident, but despite Holly’s desire to speak with Popescu, he is no longer in town.
But when Holly goes to question an actress who was a lover of Lime’s and was at the funeral, things get weird. Lime’s doctor just happened to have been passing by after the accident, and the driver of the vehicle was Lime’s own driver. A local witness claims that Lime was quite dead immediately after the accident (given the position of his head) despite Kurtz’s insistence that he spoke of Holly before his death. And the witness says there were three people who carried Lime’s body to the curb – Kurtz, Popescu, and a third man.
Meanwhile the British are turning the actress’ apartment upside down. Calloway rings her up for having forged papers – done by Lime, as she was Czechoslovakian and would have been retaken by the Russians. Calloway quizzes the actress about a British hospital worker who met with Lime the day he died and then disappeared, but she doesn’t know much.
Holly goes to meet Lime’s doctor, who is not only evasive in regards to his questions, but also seems to own Kurtz’s dog. Hmm and double hmm. Holly and the actress then run into Kurtz in a bar, who introduces them to Popescu (who is apparently back in town), who insists there was not a third man carrying the body. Stupidly, Holly tells Popescu the identity of the witness who saw the third man – that witness ends up dead.
At this point (45 minutes into the movie) all the elements are there for the astute to see the plot (especially if you’ve seen the film before – besides, Orson Welles hasn’t shown up yet), but there’s nearly an hour left. Still, Holly’s got to figure it out, and he’s a bit slow. He still thinks Lime’s been murdered. Finally Calloway succeeds in convincing Holly that Lime was involved in a black market penicillin scheme (with the help of the missing hospital worker) that resulted in deaths at the military hospital, and Holly, despondent, decides to go home the next day.
But that night he comes face to face with none other than Harry Lime. Lime escapes – vanishes as it were, right by the accident scene – but the whole episode helps Holly and Calloway later find a hidden stairway into the sewer. The police exhume the body in Lime’s grave, and of course it’s the hospital worker. At this point, it’s patently obvious even to Holly that the third man was indeed Lime, faking his own death.
But the film still has to resolve in some sort of satisfactory manner. Lime, it turns out, is hiding in the Russian zone. Holly meets tensely with him (in an epic scene on a Ferris Wheel), tells him that the grave has been dug up, and subsequently begins to scheme with Calloway to catch Lime. As a reward, Calloway arranges for the actress to get a one-way ticket out of town, but Holly foolishly gets liquored up and tries to catch one last glance of her. She sees him, gets off the train, and realizes that he’s selling out Lime. She’s not happy.
Holly and Calloway’s scheme is a pretty lousy one (hey, we’ll set up a meeting and have a bunch of police outside) made better by the fact that Lime actually falls for it and made worse by the fact that the police basically let Lime escape into the sewers anyway. But a too-long chase and one dead soldier later and Lime is where he belongs: in his proper grave, shot dead by Holly himself.
The whole thing ends with Holly getting spurned by the actress. Despite the fact that she no longer loves Lime, she can’t countenance the fact that his old friend Holly helped take him down. And so ended a pretty darn good black-and-white evening.