Sunless (Sans soleil)


If they don’t see happiness in the picture, at least they’ll see the black.

Excuse me for a moment, while I try and coagulate my thoughts and make sense of the film I have just seen… Oh, to hell with it; I don’t think I woke up with the right brain activity to fully make sense of Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, or Sunless, a film essay of the highest order. This may very well be, bar none, the most opaque film from the list that I have ever seen, and I only have about 50 films left from the list to watch. To enter into it expecting a straightforward plot or narrative is to attempt to dive head-first into a solid slab of concrete; not only is there something fundamentally wrong with your approach to the material, you might even end up hurting yourself in your attempt to interact with it.

So, what exactly is Sunless about? It takes a degree of humility on my part to answer that I had absolutely no idea after watching it, and had to resort to Wikipedia and other reviews of the film to so much as put a synopsis of the film’s themes and studies to pseudo-paper. Apparently, this is a treatise on the nature of memory, and how fickle memory can be when using it to look into the past, both from a historical and personal level. Now, with that out of the way, let’s talk about something I can actually talk about; what watching Sunless is like. There’s two levels to the film; the visual and the audible. Normally, these two facets of film would be married together a la people’s speech matching their lips or through a musical score that tries to match the visuals well enough to be relatively invisible. Not here, not with Sunless. There are the visuals of this film, which are as varied in format and material as a film can be, and the audio of the film, which consists of a female narrator reading aloud fictional letters purportedly written to her by Marker, as well as a constantly streaming track of sounds and music and clips of other media all blended together in a cacophony of dreamlike haziness. Marker shot the film with no accompanying audio track, and thus the disconnect between the visual and the audible that takes place here. Ultimately, the film is basically a much more lucid Koyaanisqatsi, but with narration providing the instigation of metaphor and juxtaposition with the visuals on display, rather than merely the construction and piecing together of the visuals themselves. I can definitely see why this was added to the list; it is an experience unlike any other in cinema, even if it is an experience that will leave you scratching your head so often you might need to go to the hospital to replace all the blood you’d end up drawing by doing so.

So, if this is as incomprehensible as I’ve made it out to be, why the rating I’m giving it? Honestly, I’d feel I’d be doing the film a disservice by giving it anything lower. Sunless is another great example of the type of film I mentioned with my review of Zerkalo; I know I have just seen a masterpiece of some kind, and now it is only left to me to try and figure out just what kind of masterpiece this is. I feel any attempts on my part to fully decipher this film will be met with near-hostility from the film in question, though, so I’m left with merely appreciating the film on its own merits. This is a hell of a film, but, if it hasn’t been made bleedingly apparent in my review so far, don’t go watching this expecting to come out of it entertained and with full understanding; this, more than practically any other list film I could name, is a film that will force you to think. If you think you have the mental faculties to take on a challenge of this proportion, Sunless will be a constantly rewarding experience. But, like I said in the opener, don’t just dive right in and expect to not have your brain hurt by doing so.

Arbitrary Rating: 9/10


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