The Path of the Cat: Chris Marker’s Centennial
6067 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, US 90036
With Marker’s blend of fiction and documentaries, explorations of time and space, and effective invention of the film essay form, his work has continued to inspire since his passing in 2012.
Born in 1921, Chris Marker was a reclusive figure whose life itself “toyed with fact and fiction.” Unlike his more outgoing counterparts like Agnès Varda and Jean Luc Godard, Marker famously sent images of his cat in place of his own portrait and refused interviews. Chris Marker itself is a pseudonym; his real name is Christian Bouche-Villeneuve. Despite his own retreat from society, his films remained deeply connected to politics and people.
This retrospective celebrates the recent centennial of the filmmaker, writer, journalist, photographer, philosopher, and lover of cats. In a century marked by war and revolution, Marker’s first cinema experience was working on Alan Resnais’s documentary about Nazi concentration camps, Night and Fog (1956). In the 1950s and 1960s, his work was marked by the essay form, as he traveled to China, Siberia, and Cuba. In 1962, his now-iconic sci-fi short La Jetée—which he made while filming the sprawling documentary about contemporary French society, The Lovely Month of May—garnered international attention. During this decade, Marker was deeply influenced by the anti-Vietnam War movement and the revolutionary spirit of May 1968. He took a break from his auteur-driven career, and began working with the activist documentary collective SLON. He returned to his personal work in the 1970s and 1980s, and became interested in digital technology in the 1990s and 2000s.
A prolific filmmaker whose style and medium were constantly fluctuating, Marker may have disliked the idea of a retrospective, as he persistently resisted the spotlight and linearity. But his films, full of formal innovations, philosophical depth, and curiosity, continue to engage the masses. This series highlights some of Marker’s beloved works, as an invitation to always choose the path less traveled.
The Lovely Month of May
Sunday, May 1 | 2pm
A monumental documentary, here Chris Marker takes to the streets to question everyday French citizens about the state of their world and society at large. The cast of characters–over a thousand–range in social class and age, and even include an owl (a recurring figure in Marker’s oeuvre). Filmed during France’s first period of peace in decades, the film is an important and iconoclastic look at French society.
DIRECTED BY: Chris Marker, Pierre Lhomme. CAST: Yves Montand, Simone Signoret (voice). 1963. 145 min. France. B&W. English. DCP.
Thursday, May 5 | 7:30pm
With Statues Also Die
La Jetée is one of the most influential sci-films, perhaps best known for having inspired Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys; Marker’s film was itself inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. La Jetée comprises still photographs and traces an ultimately circular time travel experiment in a post-apocalyptic Paris. It plays here with Marker’s first documentary, co-directed with Alain Resnais and Ghislain Cloquet, Statues Also Die, which was banned in France for its critique of France’s colonial history.
DIRECTED BY: Chris Marker. CAST: Hélène Châtelain, Davos Hanich, Jacques Ledoux, Jean Négroni (voice). 1962. 27 min. France. B&W. English. DCP.
Statues Also Die
DIRECTED BY: Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, Ghislain Cloquet. CAST: Jean Négroni (voice). 1953. 30 min. France. B&W. French. 35mm.
Be Seeing You
Thursday, May 12 | 7:30pm
with Class of Struggle
Just before the cataclysmic May 1968 events, Marker with Mario Marret, as part of the SLON collective, went to Besançon where textile workers were poised to strike. They captured the fractured process but also the ultimate sense of solidarity. When workers who collaborated with the collective on Be Seeing You were unhappy with the results, the filmmakers returned to make Class of Struggle. Under the name The Medvedkin Group, their aim was to teach workers to make their own movies. Together, these films are some of the most important politically engaged cinema.
Be Seeing You
DIRECTED BY: Chris Marker, Mario Marret. 1968. 39 min. France. B&W. French. Digital.
Class of Struggle
DIRECTED BY: The Medvedkin Group. 1969. 37 min. France. B&W. French. Digital.
A Grin Without a Cat
Sunday, May 15 | 2pm
A Grin Without a Cat is Marker’s epic exploration of a period he called the “Third World War”: 1967 to 1977 (after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Marker reworked the film). Divided into two parts, Marker explores, in a distinct personal essay-meets-found footage-meets-agitprop style, the Vietnam War, Che Guevara’s death, May 1968, and upheavals in Prague and Chile. Through collage and commentary, A Grin Without a Cat resists definitive closure on a remarkable—and traumatic—decade.
DIRECTOR: Chris Marker. 1977. 180 min. France. Color. English. 35mm.
Thursday, May 19 | 7:30pm
An unmissable classic, Marker’s iconic film is a breed of travelogue that invites the viewer not just to far-flung locales, but into the very nature of images themselves. Letters from Marker’s stand-in, the fictitious Sandor Krasna, are narrated by a woman as a mélange of footage—some shot by Marker, some stock footage—unspools. Capturing daily life and rituals alike in Japan and Guinea-Bissau, the documentary unpacks the nature and inherent limitations of human memory.
DIRECTED BY: Chris Marker. CAST: Alexandra Stewart (voice). 1983. 100 min. France. Color. English. 35mm.
The Case of the Grinning Cat
Sunday, May 22 | 2pm
With Chris Marker’s Bestiary: Five Short Films about Animals
When graffiti of an orange grinning cat appears in Paris, Marker goes searching for this mysterious mascot. His often-playful quest leads him to the streets, métro, and even the annals of art history. But Marker’s searching also intersects with the political climate following the events of September 11 and the rise of the right in France. This plays with “Chris Marker’s Bestiary,” a collection of short films focused on one of Marker’s favorite subjects: animals. Cats, owls, elephants, and bulls are the focus not of an anthropomorphic gaze but a quiet, curious one.
The Case of the Grinning Cat
DIRECTED BY: Chris Marker. 2004. 58 min. France. Color. French/English. Digital.
Cat Listening to Music
DIRECTED BY: Chris Marker. 1994. 3 min. France. Color. Silent. Digital.
An Owl Is an Owl Is an Owl
DIRECTED BY: Chris Marker. 1990. 3 min. France. Color. English. Digital.
DIRECTED BY: Chris Marker. 1990. 3 min. France. Color. Silent. Digital.
Bullfight in Okinawa
DIRECTED BY: Chris Marker. 1994. 4 min. France. Color. Japanese. Digital.
DIRECTED BY: Chris Marker. 1993. 4 min. France. Color. Silent. Digital.
The Last Bolshevik
Wednesday, May 25 | 7:30pm
After making films as part of a collective in the 1960s named for Russian director Aleksandr Medvedkin, Marker made a documentary on its namesake. The film is both a tribute to Medvedkin (who was a committed Bolshevik) and a journey into film history. It also serves as a history of Russia and its current place in the world.
DIRECTED BY: Chris Marker. 1992. 100 min. France. Color. French. Digital.
Thursday, May 26 | 7:30pm
Introduction by Filmmaker Dennis Bartok
When Laura (played by Catherine Belkhodja) loses her lover, she’s left with the task of completing his work: a computer game of the Battle of Okinawa, a major event in World War II. In this sci-fi thriller/documentary, Laura scours the internet and interviews experts, but finds less about the facts and more about her own life. The film returns to one of Marker’s central themes—memory—as well as his exploration of the digital sphere.
DIRECTED BY: Chris Marker. CAST: Catherine Belkhodja. 1997. 106 min. France. Color. French. DCP.
Tickets & more information for each screening can be found here.