By Phil Hall | October 6, 2003

If you prefer “cinema” to “movies,” then you may be happy to learn that Chris Marker’s 1982 “Sans Soleil” is in commercial re-release. If you are prone to pursuit of the masochistic degradation of your body, mind and spirit, then you will be even happier.

This laborious travelogue juxtaposes its self-proclaimed “twin poles of survival” by presenting a hodgepodge of images from the more extreme edges of life in a wealthy and stable land (Japan) with images from lands of poverty and instability (Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde in west Africa). Images from Iceland, San Francisco, NASA space launches and an emu exhibit at a zoo also get into the film, for no clear reason; the African footage actually came from other documentaries and not from Marker’s camera. All of this is stitched together by a horribly pretentious narration by a woman allegedly reading letters sent to her by a photographer infected with the gift of misplaced grandeur (claims that poetry comes from insecurity) and barely concealed xenophobia (did we really need to hear the Japanese being called “yellow men”?).

Basically, “Sans Soleil” is little more than “Mondo Cane” for snobs. Whereas the Italian shockumentary classic genuinely enjoyed its focus on the crazier aspects of civilized and primitive societies, “Sans Soleil” views everything with the frozen sneer of an intellectual who lost his connection to humanity. The film’s incoherent presentation of the Japanese and African worlds is an assault on the patience and its condescending narration leaves a sour residue on the soul.

“San Soleil” runs 100 minutes. I walked out of the New York press screening after 35 intolerable minutes. If you see “Sans Soleil” on a marquee, please turn and run as if the fate of the world depended on your speed.

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  1. Mia Kolowsky says:

    Why would you review a movie you didn’t watch (you didn’t)? Why would others listen to a review from somebody who hasn’t watched a movie?

    I’m genuinely puzzled.

  2. jay says:

    Crap review. Incompetent. Sunless is “Mondo Carne for snobs”, clearly has no idea what the film is about and insults its audience. What a hack.

  3. John says:

    But Vincent Canby is a known moron when it comes to film, so I guess you’re in great company.

    How a professional film critic can apparently admire other works by Marker (enough to write an review that makes it onto a DVD release!) yet walk out of one his most well known films after 35 minutes is mind boggling. Not only are you being disrespectful to the work, you’re not even giving a you apparently have enjoyed a CHANCE. And it’s very unprofessional of you, to boot.

  4. Phil Hall says:

    Just for the record, my review of Chris Marker’s “Grin Without a Cat” was reprinted in its entirety in the 2009 Icarus Film’s DVD release of that landmark film. And as for “Sans Soleil,” Vincent Canby of the New York Times also had problems with the film, calling it “a great letdown” which is “smothered in its insistent narration.”

  5. John says:

    After long hearing that is supposed to be one of the better review sites around, I stumbled here while looking for text about Marker’s “Grin Without A Cat”, and I have to say that this is The Number One worst review of Marker’s work I’ve seen on the Web, of comparable acquaintance with the medium of film only to the likes of YouTube comments and Yahoo! Answers. That Marker’s quip about “yellow men” was made sarcastically was obviously lost on Mr. Hall, who may or may not know the first thing about Marker’s long history as an explicitly anti-colonial filmmaker.

    How about you guys get someone to write the reviews who isn’t just trolling for their own amusement?

    • Mark Bell says:

      How about you read more than one review before casting judgement on the whole site, and the 25+ year history of Film Threat?

  6. Will says:

    This is a completely pointless review. Its quite clear that the reviewer has no idea what he is talking about. As previous posters point out – to review anything having only taken in part of it is an obtuse and pointless move.

    You clearly just don’t get Markers work. He is a master of montage. However, that skill is clearly lost on you.

  7. zach says:

    this is an absolutely retarded review. perhaps the critic should stick to films he can more easily absorb, like the latest pixar feature or anything cute and indie starring zooey deschanel.

    also, walking out after 35 minutes and then posting a critical review is a rookie move. shut the f**k up.

  8. nick says:

    fail. 35 minutes? then shut the f**k up.

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