Sunday, 13 September 2009


The Day We Lost A Month, the reaction was slow. No-one noticed at first: It was May, and November was the month that had been taken. As leaders took to our screens to tell us, most didn't understand. How could this happen?

Chris Marker (real name Christian Francois Bouche-Villeneuve) emerged internationally with La Jetee (1962), a seismic short composed of still photography that tells the tale of a post-nuclear time-travel experiment.1 It set the tone for his further work, especially La Jour Nous Perdu Un Mois. Both films share a documentary style, a time-travel motif and a bleak outlook. La Jour... takes an absurdist concept and grounds it in grim detail: The governments of the world discover that the month of November has 'vanished'. An explanation for this is not forthcoming. The film centres on events between this discovery becoming public and its consequences: it is, essentially, a pre-apocalyptic panic film, with a vague and not yet understood apocalypse.

Snatches of anonymous monologue surround the film:

One twelfth of our lives will be stolen away. That is at least six years to a healthy Westerner. Where did they go? Who took them? Early government reports were perceived as whitewashes designed to placate and confuse. This only caused people to suspect a conspiracy even more. Angry speeches turned into riots. But truthfully, the governments of the world were as unsure about the situation as the rest of us.

We are healthy. We are well. This will not happen.

But what if November literally caved in, leaving millions fleeing for a safer time of year, and destroying Thanksgiving? The rich might manage to buy themselves a perpetual August, guarded by hired armies, but others would be left scrambling from the void.

A group of revolutionaries in France attacked several May days and successfully captured them, with the aim of turning them into cool November ones; in effect beginning a rationing process of the rest of the days, spreading them along the calendar, pushing the edges of October and December into the void, like stepping stones over rushing black waters. But the French government, backed by the UN, freed the days in a daring televised raid.

The May days wilted, cried, disappeared. Years were shrivelling before our eyes.

A plan was formed that involved a small group of elite marines dropping by helicopter into the day after October 31st to see what was there. This mission was named 'The October 32nd Drop' and was deemed by many experts to be a suicide mission.

Could time be tricked if we supposed a new calendar? Could we trick ourselves into not noticing our cosmic short-changing?

The articulation of a fear of loss is potent here: What is being taken is not material, and thus cannot be saved. The diminishing of November is as strange and inevitable as the slipping of teenage love from its glorious mountaintop, or of one's own life ending. There is no villain to defend against, no cure; just apprehensive misunderstandings, loss, and possible death.

Come October, panics begin. With no November, what will happen? Will we simply jump to December? If so, can we just call that November? Some tried to compare it to the panic over the introduction of the Gregorian calendar, but that was technically a renaming. With this, we were actually losing time.

What if when the clock turns to midnight on Halloween, the world ceases?

The hopeless, black void at the end of this film is one of the most despairing negatives in movie lore. Sad as a D chord held indefinitely, the confusion and fear of the previous seventy minutes is funnelled chillingly into an ever darkening image.

And then, nothing.

Le Jour Nous Avons Perdu Un Mois Directed by Chris Marker Produced by Anatole Dauman Written by Chris Marker, Jacques Sternberg Music by Paul Misraki Starring Helena Chamelaine, David Richard, Serene Vespa Athos Films/Criterion Release Date UK/Fra: June 1966

1. La Jetee was later remade, most famously by Terry Gilliam as Twelve Monkeys (1995), but also by Mamoru Oshii as The Red Spectacles (1987) and by Jeff Poncaby-Ryde as Time Bitch (2001). Le Jour Avons... was remade by Jan Le Bont as No Thanksgiving This Year (2002), starring Nicolas Cage and Madeline Stowe.

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