REVIEW – Level Five (1997)

THE ZONE have my review of Chris Marker’s Level Five.

Level Five is an example of what I consider to be one of the most under-rated of cinematic genres: the visual essay.  Much like Patrick Keiller’s Robinson films, Adam Curtis’ documentary series, Iain Sinclair’s London Circular (2002) and Terence Davies’ Of Time and the City (2008), Level Five presents an intensely personal and formally innovative take on its subject matter.  Addressing both historical and personal forms of memory, Marker muses on the process through which we assemble and disassemble ourselves in light of both new evidence and the fading of memory. Marker attempts to link these two forms of memory together by using video games and the internet as a form of thematic connective tissue but his obvious lack of insight into either the internet or the process of games design makes the film feel both hand-wavy and almost comically dated. And don’t get me started on the human elements of the film…

Laura was intended as a character filled with both wisdom and sadness, but the weakness of Belkhodja’s performance and the artificial nature of Marker’s script combine to produce a character who is seldom more than a smug and incoherent directorial mouthpiece. By failing to ground Laura’s sections in genuine human emotion, Marker not only unbalances the film but also wastes what could have been a powerful structuring narrative: Laura is cooped up in a small, windowless room endlessly picking over discarded memories and lines of code until, eventually, the memories begin to fade and so does she. When Marker arrives at Laura’s flat to find her gone, the message is clear: Laura has reconceived herself as another person, a person free from grief and free from the memory of relationships past.

An ambitious and visually striking attempt at addressing the role of memory in personal identity, Level Five is a frustrating watch as its failures simply cannot mask the depth and breadth of Marker’s talent.  For those interested in Marker’s perspective, I’d suggest picking up the recent Optimum combined re-release of La Jetee and Sans Soleil (reviewed expertly by Max Cairnduff at Videovista)