Chris Marker, experimental French filmmaker who directed ‘La Jetee,’ dies at 91

July 31, 2012

Chris Marker, an experimental French filmmaker whose body of work includes “La Jetee,” a post-apocalyptic movie that’s often ranked among the most influential time-travel films ever made, died July 29 at his home in Paris. He was 91.

France’s Culture Ministry confirmed the death but did not provide a cause.

“La Jetee” (The Pier), released in 1962, is a 28-minute black-and-white film comprised almost entirely of still images.

Set in a post-World War III nuclear-devastated Paris, “La Jetee” tells the story of a prisoner sent to the past and future to save the present. The film was one of the first to use sci-fi notions of circular time and has since spawned myriad references.

“La Jetee” will probably be best remembered as the inspiration behind Terry Gilliam’s 1995 feature “Twelve Monkeys,” but many critics say its influence stretches as far as James Cameron’s 1984 and 1991 “Terminator” movies.

Mr. Marker was born Christian Francois Bouche-Villeneuve. He declined most interviews and was coy about his place of birth. Many sources said he was born in Paris, but the filmmaker once said, perhaps jokingly, that he was born in Ulan Bator, Mongolia.

During the German occupation of France in World War II, Mr. Marker reportedly participated in the Resistance. He later worked as a journalist and wrote a novel, “Le Coeur net” (The Forthright Spirit), before befriending members of the Left Bank Film Movement that included Alain Resnais and Agnes Varda.

Mr. Marker’s first film, “Olympia 52,” was a documentary about the 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympics. The next year, he worked with Resnais on the documentary “Statues Also Die,” an examination of African art that also served as a commentary on the demise of Western colonialism.

Mr. Marker’s own films included the pro-Castro documentary “Cuba Sí” (1961); “A Grin Without a Cat” (1977), a reflection on the 1968 student revolts in France; and “Sans Soleil” (Sunless), a 1983 experimental essay-film that again takes up the time themes used in his earlier material.

In “Sans Soleil,” the thoughts of a world traveler are narrated and used to look at the failings of human memory, especially in creating world history.

Mr. Marker’s work was often politically engaged, and in 1967, he produced “Loin du Vietnam” (Far from Vietnam), a documentary featuring pieces by directors Jean-Luc Godard and Resnais that opposed U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia.

— From staff and wire reports

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