Upon sitting down to a movie, I am usually aware of what is vaguely going to happen. Because I care about consuming the best of the crop and I can only view a certain amount of movies before my head explodes, I almost always at least know something about it. It is therefore very rare that I am surprised wholeheartedly by a movie. But I was with Sans Soleil. I had heard of this movie before and known that the filmmaker was famous for being a recluse who hated publicity of every sort. I also knew that the more famous of his movies, La Jetee, was inspiration for 12 Monkeys specifically but dozens of other science fiction tonally. But that was the extent of my knowledge of this movie. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Sans Soleil defies a simple plot description, because there is no plot. It is a travelogue type that juxtaposes scenes of Chinese formalism with African nativism. We see customs and beautiful landscapes just in like other millions of travelogues, but somehow this is different. As these images pass through the screen, we hear an enthusiastic narration by this woman who reads letters written supposedly by the man who shot the film. As we pass through a parade of native Africans chanting and singing, we hear her muse on the nature of collectivism, technology and alienation. Ideas seem to float through the atmosphere picked up and thrown down at will. These musings deal about the nature of ideas, creativity, life, death, technology, relationships and basically anything that a philosopher would be interested in. The camera floats through several scenes in a dream like state, pausing to watch people napping on a train or observe a complicated ritual in a religious ceremony.
It has been a couple of weeks since I have watched this movie, and I still can’t get it quite out of my head. That same head is muddled with the various ideas he presents and leaves unanswered.It awakened in my an intellectual curiosity that I rarely get with more conventional movies. This piece is truly unique. It is like a long wandering poem beset with tangents about cats, poached giraffes and the movements of an ordinary citizen. You can’t quite make sense of it at first but upon immense reflection, everything comes together and you understand the nature of the artist’s leanings. If you were to watch this movie, beware. Towards the end of it, I saw a very disturbing sequence involving a giraffe get shot at by a poacher and left to die. Seeing such a majestic creature topple in an uncalled for way wrenched my heart.