Chris Marker is for sure one of the most important documentary filmmakers in the history of cinema, not only because of his important and prolific career as an artist but also because of the way he tried to describe historical events that shaped the world by merging the dimensions of fiction and reality. In this list, Guidedoc brings you ten of his finest pieces.
In addition to his prolific gift for creating essay films, where usually a narrator spins a chain of thoughts about the images being projected, Marker is also remembered for being quite good at hiding his face from the public eye.
Only a handful of photographs - not necessarily sharp ones - of the French author are available on the internet. This void of images, this lack of identity, is perhaps the most curious feature of his existence.
An author who created memorable images and sounds will go down in history as the least physically recognizable one.
With this, Marker is telling us that the important thing is to transcend through his life-body of work.
Letters From Siberia
Le Mystere Koumiko
A.K. (Akira Kurosawa)
The Case of the Grinning Cat (Chats perchés)
One Day in The Life of Andrei Arsenevich
Like his fellow filmmakers of the French New Wave, Chris Marker was immediately drawn to the Cuban revolution on the eve of its rise to power.
With camera in hand, Marker arrives in Cuba to document this historical moment, revealing the ironic tone that he would later polish in the rest of his filmography.
Although in “Cuba Sí!” there is a certain touch of naivety and political idealism from the filmmaker, this documentary stands out as a precious document to understand Marker's aesthetic and political evolution, to become later a reference of essay cinema.
Here, Marker focuses on a journey he made to Soviet Siberia, a place he describes using the discourse of a narrator whose main properties are wit and irony.
This is possibly the best film to watch to get to know the French filmmaker's early style. “Letters From Siberia” is what brought Marker to a place that he couldn’t go back from.
Set in postwar Japan, in this film Marker romanticizes the life of Koumiko, a captivating Japanese woman Marker met during the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Through the eyes of Koumiko, we can see how this country has changed since the war ended. He describes how the culture has preserved its essence but has managed to evolve as well.
Marker analyzes how Japanese people and the country’s dynamics have transformed since that traumatic moment in history. It is also some sort of road movie, where we get to know this place even though that is not the main purpose of the film.
In the early 1960s, when he set his sights on various locations in Latin America, one place that certainly made an impression on Marker was the picturesque port city of Valparaiso, in Chile.
In this short documentary, Marker makes a sort of “city symphony”, capturing all the aspects that make Valparaiso unique.
From its people, its colorful houses, the unique elevators and its poet Pablo Neruda.
This was one of Marker's last works, inspired by the recurring image of an orange cat that began to appear painted on the streets of Paris.
While on the trail of the mysterious author of these cats, Marker takes the opportunity to reflect on art and culture in France at the beginning of the 21st century.
One of his shortest films, "2084" is an essay commissioned by the Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail, for the commemoration of the first centenary of the first syndical laws in France.
It is not an easy subject to treat, but Marker makes it into some sort of time capsule, where he imagines three possible worldwide sceneries in the future. These three hypothetical sceneries come represented by three colors: grey, black and blue.
Known as the French filmmaker's masterpiece, this film is an ingenious essay constructed as a travel log that intersects geographies as equidistant as Japan, Northern Europe and a country in Black Africa.
In the documentary, a narrator connects images that Marker shot on his trips to these countries through a narrative spun by what the famous film critic André Bazin once called, "the language of the intellect"
How does a master look at another master?
In this sort of rare “Making Of” film, Chris Marker observes the great Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa as he directs the shooting of his iconic film "Ran", in majestic landscapes of rural Japan.
Through Marker's patient and scrutinizing gaze on Kurosawa, we learn how the French filmmaker observes and learns from his surroundings, whether on or off a film set.
If anyone out there wants to know more about Andrei Tarkovsky, this is the place to start, and probably to finish.
It is an impressive portrait documentary of one of the most distinctive filmmakers. Marker analyzes with depth the style of the Russian director, as well as his life, before and after being exiled.
Some people say this is Marker's most important film, widely known because of its intricate narrative.
After an apocalyptic nuclear war, a prisoner is chosen to travel in time in order to ask for help and save humanity. Purely made of still images, Marker’s catches our attention like no other film that approaches the subject of time and existence with such beauty and subtleness.
With only 27 minutes of length, the film won the Jean Vigo prize for Best Short Film in France. Despite of being a narrative fiction film, we think it is vital to include it in this list due to its importance in cinema's history.
Marker was not only influencing filmmakers for decades to come, he inspired artists from other mediums, changing the ways stories could be told.
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