Chris Marker

While most of us on Sunday were caught up in the frenzy of the first weekend of the Olympics, one of our documentary champions was quietly fading away. Funny enough, his first film, Olympia 52, was a documentary about the 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympics.

He died as he lived, discreetly. Hard to find more than ten photos of him (he often responded to that request with a photo of his cat), even fewer interviews, a few photographic exhibitions – but a world legacy of 52 films which hit the poetical core of humanity in this world.

French filmmaker Chris Marker, better known for La Jetee, is at the origin of the essay film, a form pitched between documentary and personal reflection, exploring the subjectivity of the cinematic perspective.

Marker's creative use of sound, images and text in his poetic, political and philosophical documentaries made him one of the most inventive of filmmakers. He was obsessed with 'modernity' and therefore spent as much time as possible in countries that were in transition to the modern world. He called them transitional societies – "life in the process of becoming history," as he put it.

I followed his steps in Guinea-Bissau and spent time with another older director, Sana N’Dhaye, who assisted Marker when he was in Bissau filming Sans Soleil. I don't know how many times I have watched that film, still discovering subtleties and nuances in the thoughts of this traveller exploring the failings of human memory. Sana relates to the long philosophical conversations they had during the shoot. Nothing was rushed and all was discussed. Apparently he once said that he wished he had lived in a more peaceful era so he could have just filmed girls and cats, the love of his life!  

Every time Sana talks about him, he giggles. I think his African mind understood the bit about the girls but was baffled by the love of cats. Marker was a very easy-going guy who loved telling fibs about himself. One thing we had no doubt was his love for the camera and the people he filmed. He was a poet of the world. He may have been 91 but his films will not be buried in the past, every screening will keep revealing new thoughts and talk to future generations as much as he did to us.

His great friend Agnès Varda, not so long ago filmed a rare or unique glimpse in his workshop, replete with audio-visual and computer equipment, books, clippings, cats and owls, totemic miscellanea, and a bit of the voice-off of Marker himself. Here is an endless sprawl of creation out of the personal archive, the living space of the magnetic bible continuously remembering itself. Here the traces of travel, of nomadic photo- and cinematography – come to some sort of slow-spiralling gravitational orbit in the artist’s loft, a kind of ground zero of the mnemonic. 

Here's a clip of Agnès' film from ARTE:

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