Sans Soleil by Chris Maker is an insightful and revelatory essay film, the subway scene, in particular, resonated with me.
The Subway Scene, at about the 47-minute mark, in Sans Soleil by Chris Maker left an impression on me and had me mesmerized the entire time. I didn’t want to the scene stop. He filmed the scene in an autoethnography style. Maker filmed what appeared to be a daily commute for him. He projected a sense of familiarity with subway trains and the people on them, even though it may have not been a routine commute for him.
The scene starts with a digital animation of train tracks quickly passing by and a title popping up in Japanese, like in an old video game. The pixelated animation then fades into actual footage of subway train tracks from the back of the train window. Maker successfully used the Japanese video game footage to create geographical and temporal context for following footage on the subway train.
As the tracks fed out from beneath the train I began to place myself on this train with him. Not with him, it was like I became the passenger. His sequence seemed in rhythm with a natural space of looking around and riding on the subway train.
The camera begins to explore its surroundings and films the faces of people, looking out of the windows, looking at the camera, and just staring off. Close up of people’s hands holding the handles that hang from the ceiling revealed tenseness, boredom, anxiety, and defeat. Chris showed emotion with those small details, setting the stage for how commuting feels in Japan, at least for him.
He then focuses on people sleeping and nodding, bobbing heads as the train keeps on moving and rocking. Further expanding on the emotions he has already been invoking. He’s recording the Japanese commuting experience but from a very personal perspective. We are choosing who to focus on but instead, he focuses on us. It is his experience of commuting within Japan, an experience that becomes mine as I watch his video.
Suddenly scenes from Japanese television flash quickly between frames of people sleeping. Are these their dreams? Or his memories from watching the shows that he mixes into how he views their culture and people? It is indistinguishable. The memories and dreams may be his or theirs. It is here that the segment definitely changes from documentary to autoethnography. He gives no context for the television flashes on than the sleeping passengers.
Then shots of people in huge groups walking down and up subways stairs appear. He fills the entire frame, edge to edge with people walking up and down. Does he feel crowded or herded? How do the people feel? We don’t know. A woman walking down stairs he tells us is the music of stairs. The constant repetitive sound of a variety of styles of shoes hitting against the steps, do form a type of natural music you hear frequently in the city.
Two old men are sitting and watching TV, multiple TVs of sumo wrestlers. What are they watching? Chris zooms in on one TV. He shows us their massive bodies collide into one another as he quickly flashes to the gaze of older men in between shots. He trying to infer a hard thick fleshy struggle, perhaps between him and the culture.
Sans Soleil by Chris Make is an incredible film that is extremely thought-provoking. He makes you question the purpose of each, unlike traditional movies or shows. He is telling us narrative about his life and observations and put us in his shows with his filing and editing style. There many fascinating scenes in this move but the one of the people sitting on that subway for some reason resonated with me the most. Maybe it was how mundane and familiar it felt as I watched it.