One of Marker’s finest achievements, Sunless is an enigmatic and haunting collage of images and anthropological/socio-political musings structured around a series of letters written by an imaginary cameraman to a woman who is the film’s narrator. ‘I’ve been round the world’, declares the narrator, supposedly reading from the letters of a globetrotting cameraman, one ‘Sandor Krasna’, ‘and now only banality still interests me.’ If the global village truly exists, then Marker, a man who can look at banality with a new eye without once blinking in boredom, might truly be its mayor. A ghostly mayor since the further he has spread himself round the word in film diaries, travel pieces, speculative reportage, the more he has receded as a presence in world cinema. ‘Global village’ might be one way of describing the particular expansion the movies underwent during the ’80s, in part due to the ever-growing, ever-more-encompassing technology of cinema, which could turn any subject into science fiction, infinitely alternative universes. Marker’s twin and opposite number might be the late Stanley Kubrick, who was equally fascinated by the banal in its cosmic dimension, whose The Shining was his global village, but who shut himself away to explore it while Marker in Sunless takes in France, Iceland, Japan, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau. What he is seeking are all those quotidian details that might explain the great question of the twentieth centuryo’the coexistence of different concepts of time’ (space was the nineteenth century’s problem), and how memory works to fix us in time before we are shut out by history (and all the mechanisms of recording, like film). The project has its science-fiction aspectoMarker after all made the apocalyptic memory film La Jeteeobut it finds its apotheosis in the story of an eleventh-century Japanese court, where power had developed from the royal family and they spent their time making listsolists of things not worth doing, lists of things to quicken the heart.oRichard Combs. (France, 1982. English version. Colour. 100 mins.) Plus La Jetee/The Pier, Marker’s sublime short science fiction piece about time travel, which uses mainly still images and a haunting commentary.
France, 1962. English subtitles. Black and white. 29 mins.