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Sans Soleil is a 1983 film by Chris Marker.

It's a documentary—well, sort of. It's really more of an experimental film. The conceit of the film has the narrator (Florence Delay in the French version, Alexandra Stewart in the English version) reading letters written to her by one "Sandor Krasna", a fictional cameraman. The letters are supposedly the narrator describing his travels and philosophizing about the things he sees.

The bulk of the film is set in Japan, and has "Krasna", through his fake letters, opining about the various unusual things he filmed in that country. Commuters sleeping on a bus. Japanese horror films on TV. Japanese porn on TV. An animatronic John F. Kennedy statue in a department store, an anti-communist political rally, religious services, street festivals, shopkeepers on Okinawa, drunken hoboes...

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Another chunk of the film concerns the narrator's travels in Guinea-Bissau, a country in West Africa that at that time had only recently gained its independence. The under-developed Guinea-Bissau is contrasted with highly technological Japan, with attention paid to the Marxist guerillas who fought against their Portuguese occupiers.

The documentary randomly skips around from subject to subject as the narrator waxes philosophic about time and memory. Other scenes include shots of Iceland, Paris, and San Francisco, where the camera journeys to various shooting locations for the film Vertigo.


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Tropes:

  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Discussed Trope, as the narration talks about how ridiculous it is to tell people not to look at the camera, followed by a montage of people looking at the camera.
  • Call-Back: The first shot of the movie shows three blond-haired young Icelandic sisters by the side of the road, with the narration admitting that the filmmaker threw it into this movie randomly, because he liked the shot but couldn't think of anything to link it to. The shot is repeated near the end of the movie, but then it's followed with a shot of the girls' village, buried to the rooftops with black ash from the nearby volcano.
  • Canine Companion: One scene shows the famous statue of Hachiko the dog at a Japanese train station, while the narration tells the story of how Hachiko came to the station every day to wait for his master to come home from work, including nine years after his master died of a brain hemorrhage.
  • Documentary: A very oddly structured stream-of-consciousness documentary where the camera documents various scenes in Japan, Africa, and elsewhere, while the narration muses about time and memory and meaning.
  • Fanservice Extra: The naked ladies in what appears to be a Japanese nude beauty pageant, complete with a censor bar running across the screen as they stand on stage, covering up their private areas. The narrator speculates that the titillation of the censorship bar is the real point.
  • Fauxlosophic Narration: At times the letters of Krasna make pointed observations, like when a shot of women in a Guinea-Bissau marketplace is accompanied by the narrator saying "All women have a built-in grain of indestructibility. And men's task has always been to make them realize it as late as possible.". At other times, however, the narrator simply rambles.
    "He contrasted African time to European time, and also to Asian time. He said that in the 19th century mankind had come to terms with space, and that the great question of the 20th was the coexistence of different concepts of time."
    "I will have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering, which is not the opposite of forgetting, but rather its lining. We do not remember. We rewrite memory much as history is rewritten. How can one remember thirst?"
  • Gorn:
    • One scene shows, for no obvious reason, poachers killing a giraffe. A poacher shoots the giraffe right through the upper trunk. Enormous jets of blood spurt out of both of the giraffe's sides. The giraffe staggers around for a little bit, then collapses. It's still twitching when a poacher comes up and finishes it off with a shot to the head. Then vultures swoop down and eat out the giraffe's eye.
    • Another scene shows an African person who has suffered burns, or some sort of other horrific damage, to their foot and lower leg. The camera shows how the skin around the foot and leg is gone, revealing muscle and connective tissue underneath. Oh, and there are maggots crawling around the exposed flesh.
  • Ironic Juxtaposition
    • Commuters dozing in their seats on a Japanese train are contrasted with similarly framed shots from Japanese horror films.
    • The narrator claims to have picked up a radio broadcast from Hong Kong while on Sal Island in Cape Verde. The film then contrasts busy Hong Kong street scenes with the windswept emptiness of Sal Island beaches.
  • It Is Pronounced Tro Pay: When discussing the character of Madeline in Vertigo the narrator insists on calling her "Made-LINE" with a long I.
  • Jitter Cam:
    • Seen in stock footage of Guinea-Bissau rebels in actual combat.
    • Seen again in a shot where the camera captures a P.O.V. Cam shot recreating Scottie chasing after Madeline in Vertigo.
  • Lens Flare: Seen as the film captures footage of a street parade during a Japanese festival, as elaborately clad dancers make their way down a street at night. The lens flares from the lights add to the unreality of the scene.
  • Libation for the Dead: One scene shows Japanese people pouring bottles of sake over the tombs of deceased relations on the Day of the Dead.
  • Match Cut: A clip of a Guinea-Bissau soldier embracing a politician during the war of independence is matched with a near-identical clip of a soldier and a politician embracing during a promotion ceremony in 1980. That latter clip is undercut by the narration observing that the politician shown was shortly thereafter overthrown and exiled by the officer he was embracing.
  • Shout-Out
    • A clip of Marlon Brando talking about "the horror" in Apocalypse Now is used to introduce a montage of clips from cheesy Japanese horror films.
    • An extended sequence is dedicated to Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. The camera visits various shooting locations, including where Kim Novak jumped into the bay and the mission where the climax was set, contrasting stills from the movie with live footage from the same location. (By that time the old boarding house that James Stewart visits had been torn down and replaced by a large concrete building.)
    • A shot of Kim Novak pointing at the rings of a tree in Vertigo leads the narrator to mention another movie where the rings of a tree were used to symbolize the passage of time. The film mentioned is actually Chris Marker's famous short La Jetée.
  • Taxidermy Is Creepy: The sex museum, with its various statues of penises (one is actually shooting water!) is odd enough. But then the camera reveals the exhibit that consists of various animals that have been stuffed and mounted in sex positions.
  • Thirsty Desert: A scene shows the Sahel region of Africa, generally classed as the transition between the Sahara Desert and the savanna, but here looking like a straight-up desert, with the bodies of animals in dried-out watering holes.
  • Title Drop: One of the fake letters involves "Krasna" telling about an idea for a sci-fi story involving a man time-warping back to the present day from 2000 years in the future. The narration then states the title of the story will be Sunless.
  • Voiceover Letter: Most of the narration, as the conceit is the narrator reading the letters that the man wrote to her.
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