The French Nouvelle Vague short film, La Jetee, occupies an interesting place in science fiction cinema. It is hailed as a great art film and formal experiment — and yet at the same time it is held to be a SF classic.
There are only a few films you can say that about.
It uses a series of still images, edited together with music and narration in a way no picture book or slideshow presentation could ever achieve, to tell a moving time travel story.
You can tell that Jerome Olivier had La Jetee in mind when he made Missing Pages, as it is also an intriguing formal experiment, shot on a digital still camera, although it is far more technologically driven than the Sixties classic.
Olivier used what he called Fotomation — digital manipulation and effects — to create movement within the frame and to add layers of effects and images. It gives the film an eerie look, caught somewhere between full motion and still imagery, with the characters frozen in time. Often he cuts between multiple images shot only a short time apart in the real world — like the flock of flying pigeons in an early scene, often with one image bleeding digitally into the next.
But that eeriness matches the story he has to tell, about a scientist, the leader of a time-travel project, who lost his son in an accident. He retires, his work complete, but strangers appear in his home that night: his invention has been misused and they need his help to stop “The Core,” the group who now control time.
Before they have time to explain more, a swarm of “Units,” white-faced and white suited creatures with pale eyes, bald heads and empty, idiotic smiles…
Missing Pages is a deliberately slow and thoughtful film. There isn’t a lot that happens, but the mood and the stunning visuals are the main focus, and carry the main burden of telling the real story here: the one about a man and his son. The science fictional trappings are unique and not so much realistic as iconic, with a giant “X” shaped buildings, and a massive machine in the shape of a pair of arms reaching for the sky. And the servants of The Core, whether the Units or those in charge, are uncanny, unsettling and deeply frightening.
Sadly, it’s hard to find these days. I don’t think you can even get a direct download from Speaking Pictures anymore.
But if you can find it, you have to see it.
Particularly if you are thinking about building a time machine…