This summer, the French film essayist Chris Marker would have turned 100 on July 29. His work is close to the heart of Art Cinema OFFoff. Like no other, Marker demonstrated in his films that memory is impossible without images; the two are inseparable. In honor of his centenary, we are presenting an open-air screening of two of Marker’s little shown films: Le Mystère Koumiko (1965) and Si j’avais quatre dromadaires (1966), two successive travel diaries.
Carefree travel has been impossible or very difficult for two summers now. Chris Marker was a ‘cinéaste voyageur’ par excellence: other countries, cultures or times often provided the impulse for his work. With this evening, we therefore not only celebrate Marker but also the return of cinema as a collective experience and a way to travel through film. Marker also specifically employed the medium as a way of time travel. Arguably the most famous example of this is La Jetée (1962), which transports the viewer between present, past and future through a cinematic succession of still images. Si j’avais quatre dromadaires uses the same formal process.
As is the case this year, the 1964 Summer Olympics took place in Tokyo. It was the initial cause for Le Mystère Koumiko, Marker’s first film in Japan – the one country to which this eternal traveler would return again and again. The special fascination he held for the place and culture would culminate almost twenty years later in one of his best-known film essays, Sans Soleil (1983).
Marker himself remained a mysterious figure who operated under dozens of pseudonyms, made few public appearances, and preferred not to grant interviews or photographs. Even about his birthplace and day, he liked to deliberately perpetuate myths. He once put forward July 21 and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia as his origin, and in the biography of his first and only novel, Le coeur net (1950), he invented being born on July 22 on France’s Île aux Moines or “island of monks.” We are screening the films in a setting that does seem to fit Marker’s persona: the wonderful, little known inner garden of our neighbors of Het Pand, right next to OFFoff’s usual entry. This large ‘isle within the city’ is part of the Caermersklooster and currently being occupied by the Pandemisten.
Doors: 21:00, start film: 22:00
“Koumiko Murooka, secrétaire, plus de vingt ans, moins de trente, née en Mandchourie, aimant Giraudoux, détestant le mensonge, élève de l’Institut franco-japonais, aimant Truffaut, détestant les machines électriques et les Français trop galants, rencontrée par hasard à Tokyo, pendant les Jeux olympiques. Autour d’elle, le Japon…” (Chris Marker)
During the Tokyo Olympics, Chris Marker discovers a young Japanese woman named Koumiko Muraoka in the stands. He films her in the streets of Tokyo as she tells him about herself and her life. The film is both a mesmerizing portrait of this young woman and of modern-day Tokyo and Japanese society.
Avec ses quatre dromadaires
Don Pedro d’Alfaroubeira
Courut le monde et l’admira.
Il fit ce que je voudrais faire
Si j’avais quatre dromadaires.
This poem by Guillaume Apollinaire opens a travelogue in which an amateur photographer and two friends comment on the photos of a trip around the world. The film is composed entirely of 800 still photographs shot by Chris Marker in 26 different countries between 1955 and 1965. The voice-over dialogue stages a search for the meaning of the photographic image. The narrative voice, music and editing animate the photographs, give them life and a pulse.
The Belgian writer and filmmaker Eric de Kuyper described Marker not only as “one of the (last?) great travelers,” but Si j’avais quatre dromadaires and Le Mystère Koumiko in particular, as “the most daring attempts to juxtapose word and image at the same time as independently and yet as interdependently as possible: image and word meditations, but also image-word and word-image meditations [with] texts [that] are worthwhile even without images. Marker does not write commentary on images, but writes in image and text.”