No Complaints, More Explanations on Chris Marker: Never Explain, Never Complain

Chris Marker Never Explain Never Complain

Chris Marker, Never Explain, Never Complain
Un film documentaire de Jean-Marie Barbe et Arnaud Lambert


The French film about Chris Marker, realized in 2016, has been released on DVD (, in docnet films’ “Collection Lumière de Notre Temps” series.

It will be shown, among other venues, at the Cinémathèque française during their comprehensive exhibtion–retrospective Chris Marker: Les 7 vies d’un cinéaste, opening in May. The auteurs will present the film there on May 21st, 2018 in the Salle Georges Franju. A previous post here discusses last year’s screening at DOXA.


Écrivain, cinéaste, essayiste, grand voyageur, photographe, un peu pianiste, un peu peintre, ami des bêtes, intellectuel engagé et chantre de l’imaginaire, Chris Marker a, soixante ans durant, exploré la plupart des moyens d’expression.

Mêlant les témoignages de certains de ses plus proches compagnons à de nombreux extraits de ses films, Chris Marker, Never Explain, Never Complain retrace les grands temps de cette cinématographie unique, épousant à travers elle, les formes et les questionnements de l’engagement cinématographique et politique de la seconde moitié du vingtième siècle.

Marker on the monitors


Writer, cineaste, essayist, great traveler, photographer, a bit of a pianist, a bit of a painter, friend to animals, an engaged intellectual and bard of the imaginary, Chris Marker has, for sixty years, explored almost all means of artistic expression.

Mixing the testimonies of a number of his closest companions with numerous extracts from his films, Chris Marker, Never Explain, Never Complain retraces the high points of this unique cinematography, marrying through it the forms and the questioning of cinematic and political engagement in the second half of the twentieth century.

The Motto

According to a Quora answer, the motto in its reverse form, “Never complain; never explain” comes Benjamin Disraeli: “This pithy little maxim was first coined by the British politician and prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, and adopted as a motto by many other high-ranking Brits — from members of royalty, to navy admirals, to fellow prime ministers Stanley Baldwin and Winston Churchill.” One can only imagine the degree of irony impressed in Marker’s own use of this maxim. Consider the following.*

In the book Imagining Reality, Kevin Macdonald and Mark Cousins pose two questions to documentarists: 1. What in the most general terms do you try to achieve in your documentaries? 2. What is the future of the documentary?

Chris Marker’s answer – as often – questions the questions, evades while diving into the heart of the matter, mercilessly… including the détournement of the book title itself:

Writing is always a nightmare for me. Writing about my difficulty to write doubles the nightmare, especially when I’m supposed to express it in a polite way. So I warmly thank you for making matters easier for me by asking questions I simply can’t answer (frankly, I doubt that anyone could answer the first question sincerely). I practised cinema just as I practised other, less visible, things, and I never thought it necessary to brood over them. Never explain, never complain

Besides, I don’t feel I belong to the realm of documentaries.

Sorry to disappoint you… But I’m sure you’ll understand. My best wishes for your book: rarely has Reality needed so much to be imagined.


Jean-Marie Barbe is the president of Tënk, the first online platform dedicated solely to auteur documentary. The goal is to provide access to the very best in nonfiction cinema to the widest possible audience. Tënk’s curatorial team of discerning documentary professionals selects films, drawn from festivals, and organizes them thematically.

Arnaud Lambert is the author of the book Also Known as Chris Marker (Le point du jour, 2013). He earned a Masters degree in Art History, writing on Chris Marker. Lambert is both cineaste and critic. Member of the collective simple appareil that unites writers, artists, videographers, he has published in the reviews Éclipse, Images de la Culture, and Vertigo.
(Source: back cover of Also Known As Chris Marker)

* For a dialectical wrangling with the antinomy of irony, see Adorno’s “Juvenal’s error”, aphorism 134 in Minima Moralia. Writing is a nightmare? Difficile est satyras non scribere.

Si j’avais quatre dromadaires Coming to DVD + Publications Galore

“The photo is the hunt, it’s the instinct of hunting without the desire to kill. It’s the hunt of angels. You trail, you aim, you fire and — clic! — instead of a dead man, you make him everlasting.”
Chris Marker, Commentaires 2, 87

Thanks to Christophe Chazalon (CH2) of for breaking the news on several upcoming exciting re-releases and re-publications in Chris Marker land, all dovetailing on the temporal horizon with the Cinémathèque française exhibition + retrospective, itself publishing a two-volume catalogue.


First off, Commentaires I and Commentaires II are to be combined and republished in an expanded new edition, due out April 18, 2018 by Editions Actes Sud.  Marker’s novel Le coeur net, long out of print, is set to be republished by Seuil (his old employer where he worked on the Petite Planète books) on April 26, 2018.  Update: News of re-issues of both Coréennes and Le Fond de l’air est rouge, announced in the original post, turn out to be premature, but we will of course stay tuned. Thanks for keeping us apprised, CH2.


Si j'avais quatre dromedaires DVD boitier

One of the films that always seemed to escape the great anthologies that we do have, in French and in English, was always Si j’avais quatre dromedaires (1966).

The film is summarized as “a succession of 800 still images taken in 26 countries between 1955 and 1965, from Tokyo to Havanna, in passing through Peking, Moscow, Stockholm, Rome and Paris… commented by Chris Marker and his friends in voice-off.” [« Une succession de 800 images fixes prises dans 26 pays entre 1955 et 1965, de Tokyo à La Havane, en passant par Pékin, Moscou, Stockholm, Rome et Paris… commentées par Chris Marker et ses amis en voix off. »]

For a non-native French speaker, the soundtrack is so hard to decipher as to present a kind of audio puzzle that must be assembled over time, over many times of rewatching. I did this first in the summer of 1991 at the Beaubourg on a VHS copy they had, and my notes from that frantic session are lost. Not a big loss. But I suspect that even for some native French speakers, it’s a bit difficult, and intentionally so, to navigate the density of what you are hearing (a conversation among friends, with overlaps and interruptions, as with many conversations) with the density and flow of what you are seeing, a series of photographs that the off-screen interlocutors comment upon. You have to keep up; like Sans Soleil, the film tests the metabolic threshold to the subliminal. Consciously or not, Marker assumed a particular type of viewer, one who would stay rather intensely focused. This unstated precondition of spectation is one of the reasons to take any chance to see his work in a real live film theatre.

The flow of the editing shows Marker as master editor, with visual and thematic patterns emerging and submerging, recalling Marker and Resnais’ Les Statues meurent ausssi. The black and white tone of the film, along with the use of ‘photograms’, recalls La Jetée. The photographs selected for the accordion insert are some of the best.

Despite its obscurity, the film is famous for two of its quotes, both reproduced on this page announcing the new DVD (

Avec ses quatre dromadaires
Don Pedro d’Alfaroubeira
Courut le monde et l’admira.
Il fit ce que je voudrais faire
Si j’avais quatre dromadaires.

Guillaume Apollinaire,
Le Bestiaire, ou Cortège d’Orphée, 1911

“La photo c’est la chasse.
C’est l’instinct de la chasse sans l’envie de tuer.
C’est la chasse des anges…
On traque, on vise, on tire et clac !
Au lieu d’un mort, on fait un éternel.”
Chris Marker

The DVD looks to be a collector’s dream, carefully assembled by someone with an eye for design, with a unique accordion insert and gorgeous, minimal black and white cover and back cover. The release date is set for April 2018.

Boite Si j'avais 4 dromedaires - Chris Marker - Les Mutins DVD

Cinemathèque française Announces Chris Marker Exhibition + Retrospective

Les Sept Vies d'un Cineaste Chris Marker Exhibition Cinematheque francaise

Exciting news from the Cinémathèque française announcing dates for the much-anticipated Chris Marker exhibition has been posted on

Here’s the intro and several citations for now. English translations have been added at the end of the post.

For background on the acquisition of Marker’s estate, see State of the Estate and State of the Estate II: The Glorious Shambles, as well as Fonds Chris Marker – 550 Grands Cartons chez Cinémathèque française here at


L’exposition Chris Marker est un voyage. Un voyage dans l’espace et le temps, un voyage qui accompagne, de la Deuxième Guerre mondiale et la Résistance jusqu’à sa mort en 2012, le parcours exceptionnel d’un cinéaste et d’un homme hors du commun. Ce voyage est à la fois la chronique d’une existence longue et très remplie, et une libre circulation dans les différentes couches du temps aux côtés d’un explorateur inventif de possibles déplacements entre présent, passé et avenir, déplacements dont La Jetée a offert le modèle le plus connu. Cette exposition est en même temps un voyage dans l’espace, à la surface de la planète, aux côtés d’un infatigable globe-trotter, curieux du monde et de ses habitants : la Californie, l’Islande, la Corée, la Guinée-Bissau, la Sibérie, la Chine, l’Amérique latine de Mexico à Valparaíso en passant par La Havane, jalonnent ces trajets où l’amour du Japon occupe une place singulière. Les parcours de Chris Marker, à l’occasion, l’auront même mené sur Mars ou sur la planète virtuelle de Second Life…


La Cinémathèque française a recueilli les immenses archives de toute nature et sur tout support laissées par Marker à sa mort. C’est à partir de ce trésor aussi riche qu’hétérogène qu’a été conçue l’exposition, à la fois chronologique et thématique. La matière de ce legs est si riche et si complexe que l’inventaire de celui qui fut aussi un archiviste passionné n’est pas encore achevé au moment d’ouvrir l’exposition. On y découvre en particulier les œuvres originales qui lui avaient été offertes par de grands artistes, ses propres créations plastiques jusque-là inconnues, ainsi que ses deux grandes installations, Zapping Zone (Proposals for an Imaginary Television) et Owls at Noon Prelude: The Hollow Men, ainsi que le programme de discussion avec un ordinateur qu’il avait conçu, Dialector.


L’exposition est accompagnée, dans les salles de la Cinémathèque, par l’intégrale des films, vidéos et programmes télévisés (les treize épisodes de L’Héritage de la chouette) réalisés par Chris Marker. Seront également projetés les films auxquels il a collaboré, et le documentaire récent que lui ont consacré Jean-Marie Barbe et Arnaud Lambert, Never Explain, Never Complain. Et encore un programme particulier de grands films classiques particulièrement aimés de Marker et avec lesquels ses propres réalisations dialoguent.

Text by: Christine Van Assche (commissaire générale), Raymond Bellour et Jean-Michel Frodon (commissaires associés)

Find out more at:


For those who wish in advance to dig a bit deeper into a philosophical exploration of Chris Marker and the archive, I recommend reading “Marker’s Archive”, the second Essay of Gavin Keeney’s recent book Knowledge, Spirit, Law: Book 2: The Anti-Capitalist Sublime. The sections of this wide-ranging reflection – within an even wider-ranging, fascinating book – comprise: I. Cultural Patrimony; II. Futural Intensity; III. Belated Assimilations; IV. Editioned Works; V. Pre-1962 Marker; and VI. Postscript. It is available through Punctum Books (‘earth, milky way’) in a limited edition. See

Keeney is no stranger to Marker. In 2012, he published Dossier Chris Marker: The Suffering Image. The publisher Cambridge Scholars offers this sample online: Download PDF: Dossier Chris Marker.



The exhibition Chris Marker is a journey. A journey in space and time, a journey that accompanies, from the Second World War and the Resistance until his death in 2012, the exceptional journey of a filmmaker and a man out of the ordinary. This trip is at the same time the chronicle of a long and very full existence, and a free movement in the different layers of time alongside an inventive explorer of possible displacements between present, past and future, displacements of which La Jetée offered the best known model. This exhibition is at the same time a journey into space, on the surface of the planet, alongside a tireless globe-trotter, curious about the world and its inhabitants: California, Iceland, Korea, Guinea Bissau, Siberia, China, Latin America from Mexico City to Valparaíso via Havana, mark out those journeys where the love of Japan occupies a singular place. The courses of Chris Marker, on occasion, will have even led him to Mars or to the virtual planet of Second Life …


The Cinémathèque française has collected the immense archives of all kinds and on any medium [format, device] left by Marker at his death. It is from this rich and heterogeneous treasure – both chronological and thematic – that the exhibition was conceived. The material of this legacy is so rich and so complex that the inventory of the one who was also a passionate archivist is not yet complete when opening the exhibition. In particular, we discover the original works that had been offered to him by great artists, his own previously unknown plastic [fine art] creations, as well as his two great installations, Zapping Zone (Proposals for an Imaginary Television) and Owls at Noon Prelude: The Hollow Men, as well as the discussion program with a computer he had designed, Dialector.


The exhibition is accompanied, in theaters of the Cinémathèque, by the complete movies, videos and television programs (the thirteen episodes of The Owl’s Legacy) directed by Chris Marker. Also to be screened are the films he collaborated on, and the recent documentary directed by Jean-Marie Barbe and Arnaud Lambert, Never Explain, Never Complain. And as well a particular program of great classic films particularly loved by Marker and with which his own realizations dialogue.


Update I: Assembling Marker with Jean-Michel Frodon

I just noticed news of an event, “Assembling Marker”, which will put Marker curator Jean-Michel Frodon in conversation with Nora Alter at Slought | Assembling Marker in Philadelphia, on March 12, 2018. It has been organized with Film and Media Arts at Temple University and Cinema & Media Studies and French & Francophone Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Of course the mention of a “double volume publication” by the Cinémathèque definitely caught my attention. Here an excerpt from the announcement:

Upon Marker’s death, there were no direct heirs nor designees to manage his estate, preserve his legacy, and archive his materials. That task was taken up by the archives experts from Cinémathèque française, with the help and guidelines of a few devoted individuals including Jean-Michel Frodon and Raymond Bellour. The result of their tireless efforts and commitment is a double volume publication forthcoming this May, the most comprehensive exhibition ever dedicated to Marker’s multifacted work, and a vast retrospective including all his films and many of those he was inspired by or that were inspired by him, opening at the Cinémathèque Française on May 2. In conversation with Alter, Frodon will discuss the experience and process of archiving Marker, editing his writings and preparing an exhibition—all part of the process of making accessible the work of a deeply private person who vehemently disliked public life.

Where do people get the idea that being a “deeply private person” translates automatically into “vehemently disliked public life”? Sure, if we define public life as non-stop interviews and being stalked by paparazzi, that might hold true, but Marker welcomed strangers into his atelier, offered them vodka, made friends across the world, and in many ways made public life – the commons and the global village – the vast palette from which he assembled his creations, even though he no doubt needed long stretches of private, focused time to bring them to life.



The current presentation on the Actes Sud site gives the title of the catalog (and the exhibition) as Chris Marker: l’homme monde:

L’exposition “Chris Marker, l’homme monde”, organisée l’année des célébrations du cinquantième anniversaire de Mai 68, s’accompagne de l’édition d’un ouvrage de référence, pour lequel ont été conviés les plus grands spécialistes de l’œuvre de l’artiste. Les trente essais qui composent cet imposant volume dévoilent les différentes facettes de la personnalité de cet homme qui fut tour à tour résistant, écrivain, cinéaste, amateur d’art, voyageur, photographe, éditeur, monteur… Répartie en neuf chapitres, l’iconographie riche et dense fait la part belle aux archives des collections de la Cinémathèque française, dont certaines inédites. L’ouvrage se donne ainsi l’ambition de plonger dans l’intimité de Marker pour permettre d’en saisir toute la contemporanéité du projet intellectuel et artistique, la curiosité et l’acuité du regard sur la situation de notre monde actuel, la générosité politique et l’exigence éthique. En outre, l’œuvre de Chris Marker a eu un impact considérable et fut une source d’inspiration pour nombre d’intellectuels, de créateurs, de réalisateurs et de passionnés du cinéma.
Actes Sud

Chris Marker L'Homme Monde catalog Actes Sud

The exhibition “Chris Marker, the world man”, organized the year of the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of May 68, is accompanied by the edition of a reference work, for which were invited the greatest specialists on the work of the artist. The thirty essays that compose this imposing volume unveil the various facets of the personality of this man who was in turn ‘resistant’, writer, filmmaker, amateur artist, traveler, photographer, book editor, film editor… Distributed in nine chapters, the rich, dense iconography is the pride of the archives in the collections of the Cinémathèque française, some unpublished. The book thus aims to plunge into the intimacy of Marker, in order to fully grasp the contemporaneity of his intellectual and artistic project, the curiosity and acuteness of his view of the situation of our current world, his poetic generosity and ethical imperative. In addition, the work of Chris Marker has had a considerable impact and was a source of inspiration for many intellectuals, creators, directors and film enthusiasts.
Actes Sud

CinémAction n°165 – Chris Marker : pionnier et novateur

CinemAction 165 Chris MarkerThanks to Chris Darke for alerting us to this new publication with some familiar names contributing articles to CinémAction 165: Chris Marker: pionnier et novateure.

L’interactivité filmique, initiée de manière radicale dès 1950, permet d’appréhender une démarche polyphonique qui n’a cessé de montrer et commenter l’histoire du XXe siècle. Ciné-voyageur, Chris Marker reste, de fait, pionnier et novateur dans toute une série de domaines ici explorés. L’originalité de ce numéro s’est construite autour de ces pistes et de ces regards pluriels.


Préambule : Chris Marker, pionnier et novateur, Kristian Feigelson

I. Pionnier

  • Magicien du flou, Christophe Chazalon
  • Le fond de l’air est rouge : Le NU et les morts. Et l’espoir, Jean-Michel Frodon
  • Un producteur franc-tireur : l’expérience coopérative SLON (1968-1973), Catherine Roudé
  • Du temps des images à l’écriture mémorielle, André Habib

II. Filiations

  • Marker et le revue Esprit. A l’origine du film-essai, Sylvain Dreyer
  • Rive droite, rive gauche : face à la « Nouvelle Vague », Vincent Lowy
  • Du chat percheur aux chats marqueurs, Louise Traon
  • Les villes, itinéraires de chiffonnier : De Chats perchés à L’OuvroirShiho Azuma
  • La voix des autres, Johanne Villeneuve

III. Ciné-voyageur

  • Lettre de SibérieKristian Feigelson
  • Description d’un combatRégine-Mihal Friedman
  • Les filiations à l’Amérique latine, Maria Luisa Ortega
  • On vous parle de Tchécoslovaquie, David Cenek
  • Le tombeau d’Alexandre : la fin du cinéaste rouge, François Lecointe
  • Les images fantômes du Japon, Emi Koide

IV. Novateur

  • Sans soleil : une phénoménologie des apparences, Jarmo Valkola
  • L’héritage de la chouette : une matrice sérielle, Barbara Laborde
  • Story tellings : cinq installations, Etienne Sandrin
  • L’utopie électronique : une nouvelle mobilisation, Bamchade Pourvali


  • Anagramme, Catherine Belkhodja

Bibliographie sélectiveKristian Feigelson et Bamchade Pourvali
FilmographieChristophe Chazalon et Kristian Feigelson

For more information, go to

On CinémAction

CinémAction : une collection thématique de parution trimestrielle

Défrichant de manière le plus souvent collective de nombreux thèmes, la collection CinémAction explore les liens du cinéma avec la société et les évènements historique. Elle fournit une véritable boite à outils pour l’étude du cinéma : histoire, théories, scénario, décors, genres, enseignement, liens avec les autres arts. Elle dresse le portrait de nombreux cinéastes et explore la production mondiale.

Le Coeur net + The Forthright Spirit


Thanks to John H. for the gift of this PDF scan of the French original of Marker’s early novel Le Coeur net, published  in 1950 when Marker was 29 or so. 

We append to it the English translation from the following year.

Chris Marker, Le Coeur Net, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1950. Préface de Jean Cayrol.

Chris Marker, The Forthright Spirit, trans. Robert Kee and Terence Kilmartin, London: Allan Wingate, 1951.

Here’s how it starts:

Un accident, ce n’est rien, ce n’est très exactement rien. Il y a le moment d’avant, où l’avion quitte le piste, où certaine qualité de silence autour de lui, certaine attente de la lumière autour de lui, le dérobent au mouvement, fontaine pétrifiante, (comme un ange pressé qui dépouillerait l’homme de son âme, comme le bandeau mis sur les yeux du condamné, une seconde avant la morte) — et le moment d’après, où l’avion n’est plus qu’une fléchette piquée dans la terre, une sauterelle grillée, une croix… Entre les deux, rien.

An accident—it’s nothing, it is quite literally nothing. There’s the moment just before, when the aircraft leaves the runway, when a certain quality of silence, something static about the light all round it, seems to immobilise it, to make of it a petrifying fountain (so might a hurried angel strip a man of his soul a second before death, so is a bandage put over the eyes of a condemned man)—and the moment afterwards, when the aircraft is no more than a dart stuck in the earth, a burnt-out grasshopper, a crucifix. Between the two moments—nothing.

Cross My Heart by Chris Marker

Wooden Cross & Iron Path

Translation © Sophie Kovel, 2017
Original: “Croix de bois et chemin de fer,” Esprit, (Jan. 1951), 88-90.

At Ploen (Schles-wig-Holstein) I ride the Kiel train. The Baltic rain transports lavender, as everyone knows, and just enough melancholy to make souls conquerors. Die Haare, die Haare, sind grau von Baltikum. He is there, in my compartment, the conqueror. He’s the conductor. He belongs to this generation, almost nowhere to be found in Germany today – people who had twenty aps in 1940. Apart from that his small, very clear eyes, a very pink complexion, the visor of the Deutsche Reischsbahn split like that of the mountain troops – and this inimitable air of a military baby – he is shamefully conventional. The moment he spotted my accent, he sat down in front of me, offered me a cigarette and declared: “I do not know France.”

Too bad; but his acknowledgement actually pleased me. I was already resigned to undergo the account of his garrisons at Bayonne or at Deauville-the thirtieth since the beginning of my journey. To believe that others imagine it gives us pleasure to hear about their country. Like another in Lübeck: “I arrived in Paris in July ‘44, but we had to leave immediately,” and, calling me as witness: “No luck!”

He does not know France, but no matter: from ’40 to ’45 he’d done Belgium, Holland, Italy, Greece, Ukraine. He had been mobilized since ‘38, a prisoner for one year: in all eight years of war. Worse yet, his parents were buried under the pieces of their house, his inaccessible province, his unemployment for two years, the impossibility of resuming his studies, and now the railway. A recruit of choice for the Stockholm draft. But I do not need to talk to him about all this. Without any transition he got to the heart of the matter: “The Russian,” he said (in Germany, the Americans are said to be like mosquitoes, and the Russian – der Russe, der Ivan – like thunder. In Germany, all that counts, even in the order of fear, must be abstract), the Russian reduces us to slavery in the East. He expected the dignity of man… “Five minutes devoted to the list of the misdeeds of Russians “and we are formally opposed!”

Chris Marker, 1951