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 www.ac-nancy-metz.fr, 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