“He wrote me…” A woman narrates the thoughts of a world traveler, meditations on time and memory expressed in words and images from places as far-flung as Japan, Guinea-Bissau, Iceland, and San Francisco.
Sans Soleil (“Sunless” in English) is a 1983 French documentary directed by Chris Marker, a meditation on the nature of human memory, showing the inability to recall the context and nuances of memory, and how, as a result, the perception of personal and global histories is affected. In a 2014 Sight and Sound poll, film critics voted Sans Soleil the third best documentary film of all time. The title Sans Soleil is from the song cycle Sunless by Modest Mussorgsky.
Expanding the documentary genre, this experimental essay-film is a composition of thoughts, images and scenes, mainly from Japan and Guinea-Bissau, “two extreme poles of survival”. Some other scenes were filmed in Cape Verde, Iceland, Paris, and San Francisco. A female narrator reads from letters supposedly sent to her by the (fictitious) cameraman Sandor Krasna.
Sans Soleil is often labeled a documentary, travelogue, or essay-film. Despite the film’s modest use of fictional content, it should not be confused with a mockumentary (mock documentary). The fictional content derived from the juxtaposition of narrative and image adds meaning to the film along with occasional nondescript movement between locations and lack of character-based narrative.
Chris Marker has said: “On a more matter-of-fact level, I could tell you that the film intended to be, and is nothing more than a home movie. I really think that my main talent has been to find people to pay for my home movies. Were I born rich, I guess I would have made more or less the same films, at least the traveling kind, but nobody would have heard of them except my friends and visitors.”
Sans Soleil (1983)
Directed by: Chris Marker
Starring: Florence Delay, Arielle Dombasle, Riyoko Ikeda, Charlotte Kerr, Kim Novak, Alexandra Stewart, James Stewart
Screenplay by: Chris Marker
Cinematography by: Chris Marker
Film Editing by: Chris Marker
Special Effects by: Chris Marker
Music by: Chris Marker
Distributed by: Argos Films
Release Date: October 26, 1983