Bad Timing (?)


Near the middle of Chris Marker’s film La Jetée, the man “whose story this is” and the woman whose image obsess him pause in front of a cross-section of a sequoia covered with historical dates. “She utters a foreign name that he does not understand. As in a dream, he points to a spot beyond the tree. He hears himself say: “I come from there” and falls back exhausted.” 1 In the published text of the film, Marker adds a footnote clarifying this “nom étranger.” It reads simply: Hitchcock. 2 The scene alludes, of course, to one in Hitchcock’s Vertigo in which Madelaine and Scotty confront a similar object. Scotty supplies the botanical name of “the oldest living things,” sequoia sempervirons, which he translates as “always green, ever living.” Madelaine, who seems a virtual somnambulist throughout this sequence, asserts her dislike for the trees, and when Scotty asks her why she responds: “Knowing I have to die.” As in a dream, she points to a spot within the cross-cut of the tree and says: “Somewhere in here I was born. And there I died. It was only a moment for you. You took no notice.”


1. I am translating the text given in the screenplay published in L’Avant-Scene Cinéma, No. 38, 15 juin 1964, pp. 23-30, which reads as follows: Elle pronounce un nom étranger qu’il ne comprend pas. Comme en rève, il lui montre un point hors de l’arbre. Il s’entend dire “Je viens de la…” et y retombe, à bout de forces.
2. Ibid.