Level Five (NR)

Documentary 106
By Stephanie Zacharek
Here's reason for celebrating: Chris Marker's fully restored birth-of-the-Internet meditation Level Five, from 1996, which has never had a theatrical release in North America. In Level Five, Marker -- the experimental filmmaker, film essayist, political radical, and overall poet of the universe -- offers more of a plot than in his other films: Laura (Catherine Belkhodja), a computer programmer, has been enlisted to design a video game based on the Battle of Okinawa. The project becomes deeply personal: As she works, she addresses some unseen employer or confessor or lover, reflecting on guilt and history, the idiosyncrasies of memory, and on the mystery monkey who, over and over, steals that single sock from the laundry.

That last detail is a sample of Marker's playfulness, which animates even his most ambitious work. But he never uses silliness to divert from what matters most. The sound-and-image collage of Level Five includes Tron-like grids of light, and a rumination on the theme from Otto Preminger's Laura. Most striking, and most unsettling, is the grainy footage of civilians dutifully committing suicide by leaping off the cliffs of Okinawa, to avoid being captured by the Americans. At one point, a woman looks back toward the camera, a moment Marker juxtaposes with the image of a man who attempted to soar from the top of the Eiffel Tower in the early 1900s, knowing full well his home-made flying cape wouldn't save him: The cameras were running, ready to record his feat, and he felt he had no choice. The woman from Okinawa, too, doesn't want her cowardice preserved for posterity. She makes the leap. It's a moment of both grace and horror.
Chris Marker Catherine Belkhodja, Kenji Tokitsu, Nagisa Ôshima, Ju'nishi Ushiyama, Kinjo Shigeaki Chris Marker Anatole Dauman, Françoise Widhoff


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