Icarus Films // 2001 // 42 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // July 21st, 2008
A Film by Chris Marker and Yannick Bellon
Remembrance of Things to Come is a cinematic exploration of the life and work of photographer Denise Bellon. Using stills from her work and voiceover narration (written by Chris Marker and spoken by Alexandra Stewart), the film presents a short (42 minute) history of the decades between 1935 and 1955. Directed by Chris Marker (best known for La Jetée, the film that was remade as 12 Monkeys) with Denise's daughter Yannick, Remembrance of Things to Come is a poignant examination of photography, history, and hope. Beginning with the first Surrealist exhibition and taking us through the Second World War, we see the tumult of these times through the eyes of an idealistic photographer.
The film is told entirely through montage, the juxtaposition of images creating mood and meaning. There are none of the usual documentary/biopic trappings of interviews or re-enactments. Instead, Denise Bellon's photographs tell the majority of her story. The narration supplements these images, but the words are more poetic and suggestive than a linear retelling of events. We learn of her association with the Surrealists (including some of the intrigue between Dali and Breton) and the effects of World War II as well as its aftermath.
The overpowering feeling I felt as I watched Remembrance of Things To Come was the sense of possibility that was pervasive before the war. Whether it's the explosion of Surrealist art or the increase in the ease of travel, Remembrance of Things To Come is steeped in the new options (not to mention optimism) that some people felt throughout those years. Knowing, as a modern viewer, the great upheaval that would occur in the latter half of the twentieth century makes watching Remembrance a somewhat wistful experience. The promise embodied in so much of Bellon's work was potential unfulfilled, which makes Remembrance an excellent document for reminding contemporary audiences that hope can be a beautiful thing.
Even if the viewer is unimpressed by Marker and Bellon's cinematic tricks, the photographs on display throughout the film are impressive enough on their own. Denise Bellon is rightfully described as a pioneer in photojournalism, and Remembrance is an effective record of her activity. From Jewish wedding to Gypsy camp, Bellon captured a number of provocative images, providing insight into a variety of subcultures whose lives would be altered by the coming war. She is, according to the film, also largely responsible for the fact that we have any documentation at all of the first Surrealist exhibition. Fans of the history of photography are sure to be impressed by the range of subjects she chose.
Icarus Films is currently trying to release the majority of Marker's work on DVD, and they do an effective job bringing Remembrance of Things to Come to the small screen. Although non-anamorphic, the video images suffer from no obvious compression defects, and the photographs on display look like they're in pretty good shape as well. The stereo audio does a fine job with the narration and score, with no distortion or hiss. As an extra, Icarus has included a short film by Yannick Bellon entitled Colette. This piece is a short documentary on the eponymous writer. Featuring her own narration as she discusses her life, the documentary also gives us a glimpse of a visit she had with famed French director Jean Cocteau. Some discussion of Remembrance in the extras would have been appreciated, but there's a good chance that those who enjoyed the main feature will enjoy this supplement.
By most people's standards, Remembrance of Things to Come will be a little avant-garde, and perhaps a little dry. The entire film is based on allusion rather than any obvious organizing principle, making the viewer totally subservient to the will of the directors. The lack of typical signposts (interviews, a timeline) probably puts this film off most viewers' radar. However, for fans of experimental documentary, the history of photography, or Chris Marker in general, Remembrance of Things to Come is highly recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Icarus Films
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 42 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site