DVD Review: To Chris Marker, An Unsent Letter

STUDIO: Icarus | DIRECTOR: Emiko Omori
4/22/14 | PRICE: DVD $24.98
SPECS: NR | 78 min. | Documentary | 1.77:1 widescreen | monaural

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

The great French filmmaker Chris Marker (Le Joli Mai) is a very hard person to profile, as he spent the better part of his life not being photographed, avoiding interviews and crafting his supremely brilliant film and video essays in his own home-studio facility. To Chris Marker, An Unsent Letter, a valentine to Marker made by a former colleague, is thus comprised of scenes from his most famous works and talking-head interviews with a handful of his associates and friends.

To Chris Marker, An Unsent Letter movie sceneGiven that Marker’s main theme was the centrality of memory to our existence, he surely would’ve found it amusing that so many subjects interviewed here can’t accurately remember the stories he told them about himself. Granted, some of these tales were utterly fictitious — Marker informed film historian David Thomson that he was born in Mongolia, a blatant (but lovely) lie.

Others of his tales were indeed true. He did fight with the American Army while serving in the French Resistance during WWII, and he was one of the best-traveled documentarians of his generation. Filmmaker Emiko Omori (who worked with Marker on his 1989 TV miniseries The Owl’s Legacy) opts against using a narration, and so the overall details of Marker’s careers are obscured, making this a film of interest to those are already fans of his work.

Included are sequences from five of his key works: La Jetée, Sans Soleil, The Last Bolshevik, The Case of the Grinning Cat and his masterful essay about the events of 1968, Grin Without a Cat. No rare moments of video are included, and only one photo of Marker is seen — one of his “approved” portraits in which his face is mostly obscured by a camera and his beloved cat, Guillaume-en-Égypte, is by his side.

Letter is thus a must-see for fans of Marker’s work but is decidedly not a “101” explaining who he was or what he did. It does offer some amusing anecdotes about his obsessions – among them Krazy Kat cartoons and Kim Novak — but these stories will be best appreciated by those who are familiar with his extraordinary body of work.

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About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”