La Jetee (1962) is a radical French science fiction film by Chris Marker. This short black-and-white photomontage film with a narrator uses a discontinuity editing style to uniquely portray time, memory, and love. The setting is destroyed Paris post Third World War. The main character, a prisoner of the War, is chosen as a guinea pig by scientists attempting to “call past and future to the rescue of the present” by time travel. The experiment aims to achieve the goal utilizing the Man’s vivid and almost obsessive childhood memory of a woman at the jetty (as the film title hints).
The film begins with images the Man saw as a child, and then continues by showing photos of how Paris has changed. Editing techniques such as fade-out and dissolve were appropriately used not only to convey the emotions but tell the story of the film. The fade-out was used to tell how the time has passed. The image the Man remembers as a child fades-out and the photos of destroyed Paris appear in dissolve. The effective use of dissolve between the photos draws nostalgia of Paris before the War; the photos pass by like faded memories. After seconds of blackout, you see photos of the scientists’ experiment lab underground. The photos no longer dissolve but have sharp, intentional, and shorter cuts. The editing method of the photo transition reveals the mood and tells the story of the scene. The editing style changes back and forth as the Man travels from present to past, and to the future. When the Man has traveled to the past to visit the Woman, the photos are on dissolve or on longer shots. This creates a romantic mood. By simply observing the editing style, even if the narration was put on mute, the audience would be able to tell which time zone the scene takes place.
The camera angle of the photos revealed much of the film. Many of the photos taken from the underground experiment lab are taken from tinted-angles. This is for several reasons. For one, it reveals the relationship of the characters. The faces of the scientists and especially one of the team leader’s were taken from upward angle, revealing their power and the relationship between the Man and the scientists. Such technique is also used between the Man and the Woman in the memory. The photo of the Woman’s face is often captured from the side to convey their romantic relationship. Different angles indicate that time passed. As this film is a photomontage, different angle photo is a way to tell how the scene progresses. Different angles of camera are used when the Man is under the experiment and enters the phase of transition from presence to the past and to the future. The angle is neutral when there is no action in the scene, like when both the scientist and the Man fall asleep. The angle focuses on the characters’ face otherwise.
It could have been a confusing film given the time traveling and the use of narration in the film, but the film effectively used disjunctive editing style to deliver a message in its own unique way.