Sans soleil

Re-released in a new print by the British Film Institute, this 1982 masterpiece by Chris Marker is an enigmatic and haunting collage of images and anthropological/sociological 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, ‘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 world in film diaries, travel pieces, speculative reportage, the more he has receded as a presence in world cinema. 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 devolved from the royal family and they spent their time making listsolists of things not worth doing, lists of things to quicken the heart.
(France, 1982. English subtitles. Colour. 100 mins.)

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