Director laid down the marker for iconoclasts


One of the oddest, most influential and most elusive film-makers died earlier this week. Chris Marker, who was 92, travelled a route similar to many of the directors who forged the French New Wave, writing for Cahier du Cinéma before making a sideways move into film directing. But his work seemed to come from a different planet to that occupied by the gentle François Truffaut, the ranting Jean-Luc Godard and the opaque Alain Resnais.

Marker’s reputation rests on two extraordinary pieces: the quasi-documentary Sans Soleil (1983) and a strange, futuristic film, largely composed of stills, called La Jetée (1962).

Fittingly for such an elliptical, puzzling director, little is known about his life. Even the place of his birth is in doubt. Marker claimed that he came into the world in Ulan Bator. Others suggest that he emerged in an unremarkable suburb of Paris. It seems as if Marker did work with the Resistance during the war. But his claim to have served in the US Air Force has been dismissed as yet another piece of myth-making.

At any rate, the spooky La Jetée (inspiration for Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys) and the seductive Sans Soleil remain an influence on any film-maker who chooses to step outside the well- trodden path.