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Widely considered the greatest "essay film" ever made, Chris Marker's Proustian travelogue traverses Iceland, Paris, San Francisco, Guinea-Bissau and a hypermodern Tokyo as it ruminates on memory's perpetual struggle with the incessant passage of time.
The Proustian film par excellence, part diary, part essay and all poetry, Sans Soleil collects the memories of a nomadic and unseen cinematographer — one "Sandor Krasna," née Marker himself — who ruminates upon an image of three blond children in Iceland, stares into the faces of women in a market in Guinea-Bissau, goes on an obsessive pilgrimage to San Francisco to revisit the locales of Hitchcock's Vertigo (shown in 70mm here last season) and returns "home" to the semiotic jungle of Tokyo, with its cat cults and singing statues of JFK. (Among many other things, Sans Soleil is perhaps the best outsider's view of Japan in all of cinema.) With references to Tarkovsky (the Zone) and Marker's own La Jetée, Sans Soleil suggests that fixing an image on film is part of the quest for the "perfection of memory." Musing, melancholy and musical (the title refers to a Mussorgsky song cycle), Sans Soleil searches the world for that perfection. A film that cannot be seen too many times, Sans Soleil has repeatedly been voted one of the best films of all time, and has exerted an immense influence on subsequent cinema. (João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata's The Last Time I Saw Macao, which played at the Festival in 2012, is the most recent and glorious example.) "One of the ten best of the decade" (J. Hoberman, The Village Voice).