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The wonderful “Comments” of Chris Marker

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Alain Resnais (left) and Chris Marker awarded the Jean Vigo prize for their film “The statues also die”, in 1954. (UNIVERSAL PHOTO/SIPA / SIPA)

I open “Comments 1″ by Chris Marker. I read : ” When men are dead, they go down in history. When the statues are dead, they enter into art. This botany of death is what we call culture.. I open “Comments 2”. I read : “Kumiko is not the model Japanese girl, assuming that animal exists. She hardly resembles other women, or more exactly she resembles only those who hardly resemble other women. Which already hurts”. The first sentence comes from the short film “Statues also die”, which dates from 1953. The second text illustrates “Le Mystère Koumiko”, released in 1965. Between the two, there is Chris Marker, filmmaker of high lineage, film aristocrat , elusive ghost of planet cinoche. And, incidentally, genius (in the sense of the Arabian Nights: elusive).

Two (thin) volumes, nine films. Documentaries, fictions, fictional documentaries or novels inspired by reality, who knows? Marker died in 2012, at the age of 91, and, on rue Daguerre where he often hung out, no one knew Christian Bouche-Villeneuve (his real name), this tall man who examined the torn posters, sniffed the air from the sidewalk, seemed to be looking for the stump of the tree in “La Jetée”, where the concentric circles of growth indicate an improbable time, when the hero says: ” I come from there “, and shows the future out of the tree. No one, to tell the truth, really knew Marker, who invented a fanciful curriculum vitae, a childhood spent in Cuba (false), an adolescence lived in Ulaanbaatar (false), a philosophical education provided by Jean-Paul Sartre (false), a war spent in the air in the garb of paratroopers (perhaps somewhat true). He was from the past (admiring Jean Giraudoux) and from the century of the future (“Level Five”). Of him, we know only a few films and two or three photos. Dodging was his modus operandi, mist his daily habit. Nevertheless.

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“And me, in Paris, I remember Beijing, and I count my treasures”

Still, his “Comments” are wonderful. Here is “Sunday in Beijing” (1955):

Nothing is more beautiful than Paris, except the memory of Paris. And nothing is more beautiful than Beijing, except the memory of Beijing. And me, in Paris, I remember Beijing, and I count my treasures..

Here is “Letter from Siberia” (1957): “The Trans-Siberian is the longest railway in the world. He carried Chekhov, Cendras and Gatti. I have to summon them here, and Jules Verne, and Larbaud, like so many sacred cows, to watch romanticism plus electrification pass by under the flights of wild ducks.”. And again, in “America Dreams” (1959): “In this country where cars (and books) are thrown away after use, even the past is brand new”. Or, in “Cuba Si! (1961): “In the window of a department store, the Three Kings took orders by telephone; a tall bearded man of whom you can ask anything, that is part of the folklore in Cuba”. Under the pen of Chris Marker, images rise, films are born, silences and majestic chants of the Russian Liturgy of Holy Saturday fly away. The two volumes of the “Comments” are part of an essential library, tightened, with a well weighted center of gravity. They never leave me.

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In 1982, the year of “Sans Soleil”, I wrote to Chris Marker, asking him to grant me an interview. His response dated January 13, 1983:

Hello. I reject the word “grant” which implies God knows what favors… But it’s true that after having worked on something, you rather want to talk about something else. And particularly in the case of “Sans Soleil”: when you have seen it, you will understand that covering the tracks is part of the game. It would be no game to uncover them in a conversation. But we always end up meeting, especially in Tokyo. So when you pass by Tokyo… Happy New Year of the Boar. »

The bible paper of this missive, over the years, has faded. The characters of the typewriter (of the Caslon 3) fade away little by little, in the light of day. This is what is appropriate: a gentle escape, a memory erased by a silken time. I’ve never met Chris Marker, but I love his Comments, infinitely. FF

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Comments, Chris Marker, le Seuil, 1961. Depending on the editions (there were two), the value of the first book, on Abebooks, varies from €70 to €575 (with a surge of €2,300 for a signed copy).

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