The Essay Film and Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil

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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 s...

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... history and the thoughts they evoke for Marker. It goes beyond documentary to create an essay-film.

Works Cited
Everett, Wendy E., Peter Wagstaff, and Catherine Lupton. "Exile of Remembering: Movement and Memory in Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil." Cultures of Exile: Images of Displacement. New York: Berghahn, 2004. Print.
Lopate, Phillip. "In Search of the Centaur: The Essay Film." Beyond Document: Essays on Nonfiction Film. By Charles Warren. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan UP, 1996. Print.
Rascaroli, Laura. "The Essay Film: Problems, Definitions, Textual Commitments." Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media 49.2 (2008): 24-47. JSTOR. Web. 08 May 2014.
Sans Soleil. Dir. Chris Marker. 1983. DVD.
Tryon, Chuck. "Letters from an Unknown Filmmaker: Chris Marker's Sans Soleil and the Politics of Memory." Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge 8 (2004). Web. 6 May 2014.

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