Any exploration of time, memory and dream in cinema must rightly begin with celebrated French filmmaker Chris Marker, for whom the forms and operation of human memory were a career-long obsession.
Sans Soleil is his masterpiece: a dazzling essay film, it hops between countries and between topics as various as the future of civilization, the significance of Hitchock’s Vertigo, and Japanese erotica. Though it’s not easy to draw a through-line, the film has been read as a meditation on the role of film representations in creating history and memory – indeed in becoming history and memory.
In its arrest of time, photographic imagery (both still and moving) appears to hold memory in place and to offer a prompt to remembering. But through the power of their presence, photographed or filmed images also have the capacity to interfere with, even obliterate, the memories we hold. As the narrator of Sans Soleil confides: “I remember the month of January in Tokyo, or rather I remember the images that I filed of the month of January in Tokyo. They have substituted themselves for my memory. They are my memory.”