Constructing a global experience through Sans Soleil

Chris Marker’s weaving of memory and imagination through the experimental, collage-formed filmography in Sans Soleil entices the viewer to inquire upon reality through a personal interpretation of the truth. Unlike other films, Marker’s work presents fact through the mix of cultural and worldly differences and the infusing of fact and fiction to reflect the current times. He concentrates especially on Japan and Guinea-Bissau which I found fascinating as those locations, in comparison to the other scenic locations like San Francisco, seemed to serve as the boundaries of existence. In fact, from the cameraman Sandor Krasna’s letters, he describes these locations as “two extreme poles of survival.”

Moreover, towards the beginning of the film, the narrator reads in the letter from Krasna, “On this trip [to Japan] I’ve tracked it with the relentlessness of a bounty hunter.” I felt as though this one line reflected much of the style of the film. Switching between footage of Icelandic children, Japanese rituals, and other (somewhat marginalized) events around the globe, Marker becomes the bounty hunter exploring the global perimeters of reality through memory. He himself uses the word ‘scars’ in reference to memory therefore suggesting that remembrance can often invoke a mentally agonizing feedback of the past. And moreso, this compelling form of memory contemplation through direction of the film allows the audience to create for itself a new experience: an amalgamation of personal background with knowledge constructed by filmography.

Reverting to an earlier point, I found interesting that even though Sans Soleil is regarded as a documentary, it does make use of fictional content, however humble in use. For instance, a female narrator reads letters that a fictional cameraman sends to her. Considering this obscurity between fact and fiction, the film then seems to stray from common presuppositions of what a documentary entails. Perhaps this divergence is meant to break the chain of ‘categorization’ (as a documentary, essay-film, etc.) and instead propose a model of mixed film form. In this way, I think that the classification of the film resembles its architecture as a photo(/film)montage. Additionally, I thought that the defiance of convention aided the message of the essay film in that the fictitious elements were strung loosely in the narrative as a means to supplement the footage and strengthen an emotional connection between the film and the audience. Jill Godmilow states in her 2001 Documentary Film Dogma the necessity of producing “a fully self-conscious audience,” and indeed I feel that Sans Soleil does through its avant-garde structure urge the audience to contemplate its role as a “player in the world” while also constructing an international connections of memory and imagination via footage.

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