Si j’avais quatre dromadaires

Composed entirely of still photographs shot by Marker himself over the course of his restless travel through twenty-six countries, If I Had Four Dromedaries stages a probing, at times agitated, search for the meanings of the photographic image.MUBI

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

Marker Littéraire: Quoting & Naming

La culture de Marker est grande, qu’il s’agisse de musique ou de littérature, d’art ou de cinéma. Donc rien d’étonnant à ce choix. Mais si ici il donne directement sa source, comme il le fera plus tard pour Une journée d’Andrei Arsenevitch (1999) dont il précisera lui-même le lien avec le premier roman d’Alexandre Soljenitsyne intitulé Une journée d’Ivan Denissovitch, publié dans la revue littéraire Novy Mir pour la première fois en décembre 1962, ou encore avec cette phrase “Je vous écris d’un pays lointain” tirée d’un poème des Lointains intérieurs (1938) d’Henri Michaux et qui ponctue Lettre de Sibérie (1958), la filiation n’est pas toujours évidente ou confirmée, même si on imagine mal une simple coïncidence. C’est le cas de Description d’un combat (Beschreibung eines Kampfes) (1909), le premier écrit conservé de Franz Kafka, une nouvelle entreprise vers 1904 et qui se trouve être le titre du film de Marker sur Israël (1960).Christophe Chazalon, “Courts métrages de Chris Marker”, chrismarker.ch

Marker’s cultural range is great, whether it pertains to music or literature, art or cinema. Therefore there is nothing shocking in this choice [of titles]. But if here he directly cites his source, as he would later for A Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevitch (1999) – in which he notes himself the connection with the first novel of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn entitled A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, published in the review Novy Mir for the first time in December 1962 – or again with the phrase “I write to you from a distant country”, taken from a poem in Lointains interieurs [Interior Distances] (1938) by Henri Michaux and which punctuates Letter from Siberia (1958), the [literary] connection is not always evident or explicit, even if it’s hard to imagine a simple coincidence. This is the case with Description of a Combat (Beschreibung eines Kampfes) (1909), the first preserved writing of Franz Kafka, a new enterprise around 1904 and one that finds itself as the title of Marker’s film on Israel (1960).

There are other examples: Sans Soleil from Mussorgsky. The Zone from Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Marker’s animated gallery stroll, Pictures from an Exhibition, again from Mussorgsky. The noted references in Coréennes original back cover to Satie’s Gnossiennes and Pascal’s Provinciales… Marker’s abode in Second Life, Ouvroir, contains a subterranean connection to Oulipo, short for French: Ouvroir de littérature potentielle (the connotations of work, workshop and opening bouncing off each other). Ouvroir also references Bioy Cesares’ Island of Morel, to which Marker refered interested parties when asked to explain Ouvroir. So it was not just in his own naming and alter egos that Marker played with reference and elision; his works too are haunted, littered, scattered, seeded with unmarked references that make fun work for inquiring minds. Though it has gone more or less unexplored in the growing critical literature, Michaux in particular seems to gaze out from between the lines of Marker’s written work and between the frames of his filmed work.

Structure: The Castle & The Garden

The terrain covered in If I Had Four Camelsis organized in two parts, “The Castle” and “The Garden”. Each explores different facets of human achievement and experience, and revisits the utopian ideals that Marker had admired in the work of Giradoux, and figured through African art and the Olympic Games in his earliest films. “The Castle” leans towards the pinnacles of human culture and civilization: cities, societies, art, religion and commerce. […] The photographer confesses that he cannot resist films that pass from country to country at a single moment in time, and, in narrating his own journey around the world via photographs, nods implicitly at those passages in Le Coeur net, Letter from Siberia and Cuba si that had established the route before it.

If “The Castle” leans toward culture, “The Garden” focuses upon human nature, treated as a native impulse towards fulfilment and happiness. Children and animals are shown as ideal representatives of ‘the law of the garden’, but the desire to achieve balance and satisfaction in the human condition is also expressed through the aspirations of revolutionary politics.Catherine Lupton, Chris Marker: Memories of the Future, 103-104

Credits

Director
Chris Marker

Cinematography
Chris Marker

Editing
Chris Marker

Sound
Antoine Bonfanti

Music
Lalan
Trio Barney Wilson

Narration
Pierre Vaneck
Nicolas Yumatov
Catherine Le Couey

Production
Norddeutscher Rundfunk
Apec, Slon

Further Reading

One thought on “Si j’avais quatre dromadaires

  1. Daniel says:

    Michaux uses the term “dépaysant” in an aphorism in Tent Posts, recalling Marker’s book Le Dépays.

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