Sans Soleil (1983)

Genres - Avant-garde / Experimental, Culture & Society  |   Sub-Genres - Essay Film  |   Run Time - 100 min.  |   Countries - France   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Andrea LeVasseur

A prime example of essay filmmaking, Chris Marker's Sans Soleil has been extensively detailed by film theorists. Admittedly, it's kind of boring, self-indulgent, and pretentious to gaze at people of various Asian and African cultures while a European narrator ponders the meaning of life. On the other hand, it can also be a soul-searching experience for viewers who like when things are open to interpretation. The highbrow language is part of the problem, but the broad statements about humanity and modern life are fortunately aided by effectively small, personal details. One example is a bronze statue at a train station, a tribute to a dog who waited a lifetime for his master to come off the train. These type of nuances set the right tone for getting lost in a kaleidoscope of cultural messages. With such little regard to space, the film is at least firmly centered in terms of time, with 1980s fashions, music, and technology dominating the mood. Two sequences stand out: the juxtaposition of clips from Hitchcock's Vertigo with actual filming locations in San Francisco and the montage of Japanese horror films with sleeping passengers on a train. Both sequences explore the possibilities of spiritual connection in vastly different contexts, leaving one feeling either ignorant or enlightened, or both. These studies of the collective unconscious are certainly ambitious, but the meaning and importance lies in the efforts of the viewer.