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.