In Chris Marker’s documentary, a woman narrates letters from a friend who is a world-traveller. He has been to Japan, Africa, Iceland, San Francisco, and France. The thought-provoking images and poetic commentary in this documentary invite us to meditate on memory, space and time. Understandably, the documentary begins with a quote from T.S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday”
Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place.
But what or who can really capture memory, space and time? These things are forever changing, fashioned by new memories, new spaces, new times. Perhaps I need to have more faith in the capability of constancy.
Artistic films invariably play with lyrical words, turn random images into meaning-loaded riddles, slow down selective moments, and magnify the colour schemes of things. Chris Marker does these in Sunless; but this time I’m not complaining. The only complaint that I have is that there are too many images, too many things to ponder upon.
Even though the documentary brings us to several places in the world, the only place that really has my attention is Japan and below are some of the many images that impress me:
The shrine to cats in Tokyo. Here all cats put up their right hands; together they form a class of intelligent students who know all the answers to their teacher’s questions. Look at that poor cat that is handless and yet still strives to do the same thing as anybody else. Don’t these cats remind one of the bodiless cats in Kafka on the Shore? (My friend Kevin wrote me a message: ‘The cat picture reminds me of China’s Qin terra cotta warriors, especially those with the head missing.’)
The man who killed himself after the death of his wife because he couldn’t bear the sound of the word ‘Spring’.
The fascination of the phallus. There is a museum, shrine and gift-shop all in one, devoted to the phallus. We see stuffed animals (bears, monkeys, deer, etc.) engaged in sexual intercourses, emphasising on the male’s penises. Then the narrator says, ‘Who said that time heals all wounds? It would be better to say that time heals everything except wounds.’ The camera, at this point, focuses on an open vagina. It’s red and big. It looks like a bad and fresh wound.
The street chef. His face does not house a smile. His hands skilfully cracks eggs into halves. Each egg forms the same pattern on the large and horizontal frying pan. Sometimes the white of the egg becomes irregular lines on the boarder of the rest of the egg. Those lines are rebellious. Calligraphy.
The eyes that are watching you. On Japanese TV shows, there are a lot of gazes from the actors and actresses, or, fictional characters. You watch someone who is watching you. And the eye, with its eyeball, brings us this: ‘You wrote: Only one film has been capable of portraying impossible memory, insane memory – Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. In the spiral of the titles I see time covering a field, ever wider, that moved away – a cyclone whose present moment contains, motionless, the eye.’
He liked the fragility of those moments suspended in time, those memories whose only function had been to leave behind nothing but memories. –p. 1 (Jon Kear in the book Sunless / Sans Soleil)