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The Essay Film And Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil

2599 words - 10 pages

Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil is a free-form style travel diary told through the letters of a fictional cameraman Sandor Krasna. A woman, Alexandra Stewart, who remains unseen throughout the entire film, reads these letters. The film explores themes of time, memory, and history. In the essay “In Search of the Centaur: The Essay Film” author Phillip Lopate defines five characteristics he believes a film must have in order to be considered an essay film (245-7). It can be argued that Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil is an essay film based on most if not all of Lopate’s defining characteristics.
The first characteristic that Lopate defines is, “An essay-film must have words in the form of a text either spoken, subtitled, or intertitled” (245). The text in Sans Soleil is in the form of letters from the fictional cameraman, Sandor Krasna. Lopate argues that an “utterly pure, silent flow of images” cannot be considered essayistic (245). In the case of Sans Soleil the images alone would not be essayistic because you would not have an understanding of them. The text of the film could not stand-alone well either because the text explains the images as well as gives us a visual representation of what is being talked about. An example would be the beginning of the film; the narrator speaks about the cameraman seeing children on a road in Iceland and how he thought it was the image of happiness. As the narrator is telling us this we are presented with an image of these children. He then goes on to tell us that he wants to put it at the beginning of a film with a long piece of black leader so “if they don't see happiness in the picture, at least they'll see the black.” We are given this image as she reads about it; the words and images together are stronger than they would be separately. If we were only given the words we would still understand it but the message would not be as strong. As well, if we only had the images there would not be any explanation and it would be more difficult if not impossible to understand said images. This is one of several examples of the text and images working best together. If we were only presented the images with out any form of text it may feel similar to watching picture slides of someone’s last vacation. The pictures are interesting to look at and you can get a sense of what the person saw and did. Without the text, though, the viewer does not get context for the images or get to know exactly what it is they are looking at.
The second trait or characteristic that Lopate defines is, “The text must represent a single voice… or if collaborative, then stitched together in such a way as if to sound like a single perspective” (246). The voice of Sans Soleil is Chris Marker as Sandor Krasna. The letters being read as the narration of the film are written by the travelling cameraman, Sandor Krasna, read by Alexandra Stewart. Though there are several instances where the narrator gives her thoughts on what is being said in the letters,...

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