TIFF Cinematheque presents a Summer in France: ‘Sans Soleil’ a lurid stream of consciousness

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Sans Soleil

Directed by Chris Marker

Written by Chris Marker

France, 1982

“I remember that January in Tokyo, or rather the images I filmed that January in Tokyo. They’ve replaced my memory. They are my memory. I wonder how people remember things who don’t film or photograph or tape. How mankind manages to remember?”

It’s rare that a thesis can be so well articulated, yet so indefinite and nebulous. It’s rare than any resulting essay can be so delirious and hypnotic. But, then again, it’s rare that anyone has the talents of Chris Marker.

His film, Sans Soleil, should not be confused as a documentary. No, it’s more of a cultural diary. It’s more a lurid stream of consciousness, a continuous flow of memories, thoughts, emotions, and perceptions.

Like his previous film, La Jetée, Mr. Marker again returns to his tried and true practice of narration-imagery dialectic, but this time, he illustrates the meditations of a cultivated world traveler.

The said traveler muses on his memories and experiences in disparate places, from the poverty-stricken regions of Guinea-Bissau‬ to the modern veneer of Tokyo, but is read and recited by a female narrator.

The moments depicted are often random and lack meaning, but they are moments that demand to be understood. They are memories of the traveler, a precious and intimate concept that Mr. Marker frequently explores in his films.

As the he explains, memory and history are at constant odds. History will remember the sensational, the significant and momentous instances of life. These are the moments that will be remembered by subsequent generations and by textbooks.

This approach is ultimately facile, and Mr. Marker wants us to remember things differently. He wants the world to remember the images documented by the traveler. In a sense, they are objective, as the memories are factual, but are subjective, because they are his. This is what Mr. Marker means by ‘involved objectivity’.

This is what the traveler chooses to remember, fleeting points in time that will otherwise be forgotten by the forward momentum of human existence. Like in La Jetée, these moments are captured in physical form, whether on “film or photograph or tape”.

Who will remember the Takenoko dancers of Tokyo, or the solemn tears of Major Nino in Africa, or the innocent curiosity of three young girls in Iceland? When the world moves on, they will be mere footnotes in the course of human history, a vestige of what once was.

Mr. Marker makes sure that their images will endure through time and space, so that people living in the 20th century and beyond, maybe even in year 4001, will have total recall of these seemingly innocuous events.

They may not have the significance to be remembered as formative pillars in human history, but they do help to elucidate the many facets of human culture and to foster a greater appreciation of our collective experience. Mr. Marker wants us to remember these moments, and, in Sans Soleil, we will never forget them.

– Justin Li

Sans Soleil is a part of TIFF Cinematheque’s ‘Summer in France’. For more information and tickets, please visit the official website

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