Chris Marker’s LEVEL FIVE (1997)

Chris Marker’s brilliant and passionate but rarely seen (and never before US-distributed) multimedia docudrama reflects on the epic and decisive WWII Battle of Okinawa and its often suppressed historical relevance.  Catherine Belkholdja plays a French computer programmer researching the battle – including its 82-day siege and the loss of a third (roughly 100,000 people) of its island population – and documentary footage is mixed with her monologues as she simultaneously sorts through her feelings regarding a deceased lover.  Less a plot point than a metaphor, Belkholdia’s interactions with the computer (suggested by creative graphics courtesy of Marker’s beloved Macintosh) offer a third layer of consideration: the growing importance of the  internet and the computer’s role as a human memory device.  Like much of Marker’ career, the film deals both poetically and concretely with themes of time and identity, and like his other masterworks – such as A Grin Without a Cat (1977) and The Last Bolshevik (1993) – history is shown to be a vital source of human narrative and personal meaning. Important films cited include Nagisa Oshima’s Dear Summer Sister (1972) and John Huston’s Let There Be Light (1946), and Marker’s trademark touches (references to owls, cats and Hitchcock’s Vertigo) are on full display.  It’s a fascinating and important film that never allows its substantial cleverness to replace its deep and profound empathy.

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