August 30th, 2014 | Film | 0 Comments
Level Five, a 1997 film by Chris Marker – the experimental French filmmaker best known perhaps for his 1962 film La Jetée, later adapted into the American film 12 Monkeys with Bruce Willis – is an incredibly odd and unique film. It was rereleased recently and I saw it at Cinema Village here in New York.
The film is centred around Laura (Catherine Belkhodja) as she tries to complete a computer game left her by a lover now gone. The point of the game is to recreate the battle of Okinawa, one of the most brutal battles of WWII between America and Japan. The battle is also notable for the deaths, many by suicide, of 42,000-150,000 civilians, instructed to kill themselves rather than be captured by the enemy.
As Laura tries to work on or through the game, she is reflecting, in a series of vlog-like clips, on the loss of her lover. Along with this, the film also serves as a documentary about the battle of Okinawa, with interviews with survivors and historians.
Unsurprisingly, its something of a schizophrenic film, dealing with a hugely important historical event as well as the sadness of a personal loss, the subjects connected only tenuously by a video game. It’s as if making a simple documentary was too simple a task for the visionary Marker, who uses all the subjects of the film to compose a strange, often techno-nightmarish collage for the purpose of exploring aspects of the human psyche and experience.
Though a very ugly film, Level Five‘s visual style, full of awful 90s computer graphics and VHS grain, was oddly ahead of its time, now resembling something of a full length film tumblr account devoted to such images. I’m not sure if at the time Marker consciously made it so ugly, or the graphics had yet to acquire the cultural cache they now have and were considered futuristic-looking or something. If the film were made today, it would be obvious what the director was going for, but it’s hard to say if in 1997 the intention was similar.
By the end of Level Five, the viewer has had a lot of ideas and emotions impressed upon them, and to wrap it all up, we’re shown an interview with an elderly man named Kinjo, who, as a 19-year-old Japanese soldier in the war, killed his mother and two of his siblings with the help of his brother to prevent them from being captured and tortured by American forces. Following this, Laura zooms the camera in on herself till all we see is her out of focus lips, as she elucidates further on her sadness. Hardly a happy ending. But it does feel conclusive, as though we’ve heard this story – told slowly – to its right conclusion, and have to understand that not everything is ‘alright in the end’. “None of them ever reached level five,” as Laura tells us earlier in the film. And maybe that’s just something we have to accept.