Category Archives: Pacific Film Archive

Level Five: Filmnotes @ PFA + argos/arte

Pacific Film Archive Notes

A woman, a computer, an invisible contact: this is where Marker’s new film begins. Laura’s job is to design a video game based on the battle of Okinawa, a tragedy little known in the West but which played a determining role in the outcome of World War II, in the postwar period, and even in our own day. But unlike classic strategy games, where the goal is to change the course of history, the aim of this game is to recreate the events of history exactly as they happened. Working on "Okinawa," Laura meets informers and actual witnesses of the battle (among them filmmaker Nagisa Oshima) on a mysterious Internet-like network. She gradually assembles pieces of the puzzle until one day they begin interfering with her life.

Written by Marker. Photographed by Marker, Gérard de Battista. With Catherine Belkhodja, Kenji Tokitsu, Nagisa Oshima. (106 mins)


Argos / Arte VHS Notes

un film de Chris Marker avec Catherine Belkhodja, la participation de Oshima Nagisa, Tokitsu Kenji, Ushiyama Ju’nishi et le témoignage du Révérend Shigeaki Kinjo

Une femme (Laura), un ordinateur, un interlocuteur invisible : tel est le dispositif à partir duquel LEVEL FIVE se construit. Cette femme a “hérité” d’une tâche : terminer l’écriture d’un jeu vidéo consacré à la bataille d’Okinawa – une tragédie pratiquement inconnue en Occident, mais dont le déroulement a joué un rôle décisif dans la façon dont la Deuxième Guerre mondiale s’est achevée, et même, on le verra, dans ce que fut l’après-guerre, dans ce qu’est notre présent.

Singulier jeu en vérité. A l’inverse des jeux de stratégie classiques dont le propos est de renverser le cours de l’Histoire telle qu’elle s’est accomplie. Mais en travaillant sur Okinawa, en rencontrant par l’intermeédiaire d’un mysterieux réseau parallèlle à Internet des informateurs et même des témoins de la bataillle (parmi le cinéaste Nagisa Oshima), Laura accumule les pièces de la tragédie, jusqu’au moment où elles commencent à interférer avec sa propre vie.

Comme tous les jeux vidéo, celui-ci avance par “niveau”. Laura et son interlocuteur, intoxiqués par leur entreprise, ont fini par en faire une métaphore de la vie elle-même, et distribuent des levels à tout ce qui les entoure. Atteindra-t-elle LEVEL FIVE ?

1997 · COULEURS · 106 MIN

For a perceptive essay on Level Five, see Andrew Tracy’s piece on Reverse Shot, from which we have gratefully borrowed the image used above.
«“I’ll have to give these images to my friend Chris one day, see if he can make any sense of them,” says Laura (Catherine Belkhodja), the protagonist of Level Five; “Chris, the editing wunderkind,” she slyly adds.»

The Owl’s Legacy: Filmnotes @ PFA

The Owl’s Legacy Chris Marker (France, 1989) Parts 1, 2 and 3 (L’héritage de la chouette).

“He must have been a royal pain in the ass. It’s just unbearable to have a man like that in a city.” This is how George Steiner describes Socrates in one of the many provocative moments in Chris Marker (Sans Soleil)’s latest “cultural documentary,” a television series based on Greek culture and its rich, often troublesome heritage. Topics include the unique nature of Athenian democracy, the grammar of myths, sexuality and pleasure, the invention of the self, music, Pythagoras, and the ever-dominant importance of language. Athenian OwlMarker’s ability to document the relatively abstract and often specialized nature of such subjects covered during scores of interviews with scholars, philosophers, artists, scientists, politicians in Athens, Berkeley, Paris, Tbilisi, and sustain it without ever being dull or repetitive is truly remarkable. And alternating with the answers to Marker’s persistant questions are literally hundreds of inserts: montage sequences of statues, film excerpts, computer graphics and landscapes, all illustrating or contextualizing the replies. It is difficult to imagine a more perfect illustration of one of Castoriadis’ final remarks about what he considers one of Greek philosophy’s major contributions: “What should I think?” In its very structure, and the dialectics woven across many thinkers, it is also “a critique of the representation of the tribe,” in this instance, the legacy of Greek culture to the world.–Bertrand Augst

Written by Marker. Photographed by Emiko Omori, Peter Chapell, et al. Edited by Khadicha Bariha, Nedjma Scialom. With Iannis Xenakis, George Steiner, Elia Kazan, Theo Angelopoulos, Cornelius Castoriadis. (In English, and French, Georgian, Greek with English subtitles, Color, 3/4″ Video, projected, Cassettes courtesy Chris Marker with permission of Film International Television Production and La Sept) (Total running time, parts 1, 2, 3: 75 mins)

Loin de Vietnam: Filmnotes @ PFA

Far from Vietnam Jean-Luc Godard, Joris Ivens, William Klein, Claude Lelouch, Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, Agnès Varda (France, 1967).

Loin de VietnamRarely shown in its entirety, Far from Vietnam is a unique collaboration by seven noted directors that, incredibly, looks like a unified work. Much of the credit for this goes to Chris Marker, who put it all together. But there was also a team spirit created by the situation in Vietnam that led the artists to want to speak out, directly and boldly, in a group work. Resnais: “Far from Vietnam is a film of question marks, of questions we ask ourselves as often perhaps as you. Agnes VardaIt’s for that reason that we put them on the screen: after all, it is as natural for filmmakers to speak on a white canvas as in a cafe.” Klein: “On the corner of 42nd Street and 8th Avenue in New York, a guy is reciting a poem consisting of the syllables na-palm. And no one knows what napalm is. It showed me how blind people become to something they hear referred to all day long. So, we decided to do something a little like Picasso confronted by the bombing of Guernica.” The result is a provocative treatment of footage shot in Vietnam, France, the U.S., and Cuba.

Commentary by Jean Lecouture. (120 mins, In French with English subtitles, B&W/Color, 35mm)

The Lonliness of a Long-Distance Singer: Filmnotes @ PFA

A finely crafted film by the unique film-poet, Chris Marker, The Loneliness Of A Long-Distance Singer aims to convey two aspects of the actor/singer Yves Montand: his political conviction and his artistic integrity. In February 1974, Montand agreed to prepare in one week a performance of some of his best-known songs for the benefit of the Chilean refugees after Allende’s overthrow. In this remarkable film, we see the anxious tension, the moments of relaxation, everything which went into his polished appearance on the stage at the Olympia in Paris. The skillful cuts back and forth between the final performance and the rehearsals the week before allow us to see how carefully the show is put together by Montand. He tests every gesture, goes over and over every rhythm change. His accompanist and friend, Bob Castella, emerges as a warm, appealing personality, who in one excellent scene must stand up to Montand’s explosive anger when there is a discrepancy between the music and the words. As we continue to be entertained by Montand’s virtuoso singing, we are led by Chris Marker into a deeper understanding of the man. Montand talks about politics, about women; we get film clips from some of his best roles (La Guerre Est Finie, Z, The Confession, and so on). In the end, we understand Montand when he says: “I sing today so that we don’t forget the blood of yesterday.”

Directed by Chris Marker. (1974, 60 mins, color, English titles, Print from Icarus Films)

Sans Soleil Geo-temporal Map

Sans Soleil Geo-temporal Map

This enigmatic diagram was found at the Pacific Film Archive in 1990. It seems to provide a kind of map for the locations and temporal flow of Sans Soleil. We welcome your interpretations. Click the image for a larger view.

The Koumiko Mystery: Filmnotes @ PFA

The Koumiko Mystery (La Mystère Koumiko)

Koumiko MysteryMarker studies a young Japanese woman, wandering about Tokyo during the 1964 Olympic games, asking her questions about how she feels about herself and the world. Koumiko comments vaguely on her feelings of separation from people and animals, of drifting with the tide of an anxious world. Amid the transience of a futuristic World’s Fair-like atmosphere, Marker may exoticize Koumiko’s ancient beauty but the “mystery” of the film’s title is, quite simply, the mystery of individuality. Please note: We regret that the color has faded to pink on our print and all prints of this film existing in the U.S.

A film by Chris Marker. (1965, 47 mins, In French with English subtitles, Color, 35mm, Print from PFA Collection/New Yorker Films Deposit)

Lettre de Sibérie: Filmnotes @ PFA

Letter from Siberia (Lettre de Sibérie)

Chris Marker’s ethnographic essay-documentary on Siberia, made in 1957, remains fresh and relevant today. Combining fantasy animation (of woolly mammoths and mammoth buildings) and documentary photography shot by Sacha Vierny, Marker displays above all his amazement at the diversity of Siberia, at once almost pre-historic and post-revolutionary. On the film’s revival at the 1982 New York Film Festival, Village Voice critic Carrie Rickey called it “compassionately detached, playful and eclectic…. What still thrills about Letter from Siberia 25 years after it was made is Marker’s sympathetic ethnography, so much against the grain of the partisan American documentaries of the ’50s where the omniscient voice told you how to read each image.” In one hilarious segment, Marker does include that voice – repeating a scene with a Capitalist-propaganda voice-over and then with a Soviet one.

Directed and Written by Chris Marker. Photographed by Sacha Vierny. Music by Pierre Barbaud. Edited by Anne Sarraute. (1957, 60 mins, In French with English titles, 35mm, color, Print from New Yorker Films)


A propos: On the website, there is a useful structural breakdown, for pedagogical purposes, of the famous montage-commentary sensorium phase shifting contained in Lettre de Sibérie. The image sequence reproduced above is lifted (with gratitude, bien sûr) from that site. The site also presents the three voiceover narration bits that “interpret” this sequence of images in three radically different manners (for these texts, see comments). Here’s what film students are ostensibly supposed to learn:


  • établir une relation entre les différents éléments d’un message audio-visuel
  • mettre en évidence le poids des mots par rapport aux images
  • introduire la notion de point de vue

Les Statues meurent aussi: Filmnotes @ PFA

Marker & Alain Resnais Direct: Statues Also Die (Les Statues Meurent Aussi)

“This is a profoundly humanistic study of African art and its decline under colonialism, introducing two themes that have remained central in Marker’s work-the belief that all great human societies represent a victory over adversity and posit a view of man as potential ‘master of the world’; and the belief that such mastery is only possible if man is at one with the natural world. Marker believes that art should seek to ‘guarantee’ this harmony, as early African art does, rather than reflect its loss. This deeply felt film was banned by the censors as an attack on French colonialism, finally appearing ten years later in a truncated version.”
John Wakeman, World Film Directors

A film by Chris Marker, Alain Resnais. (1953, 21 mins, In French with written English synopsis, B&W, 16mm, Print from Cinémathèque Quebeçoise)

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