Sans Soleil

Historical Context



A number of historical events during 1983 coincide with images in Sans Soleil, released the same year.  Marker’s video essay is presented through a series of letters written by Sandor Krasna and added to the soundtrack by Alexandra Stewart’s voiceover. 

On April 4, 1983, Space Shuttle Challenger or Challenger STS, makes its maiden voyage into space.   Challenger is described as the workhorse of the early days of the Shuttle fleet.[1]


On April 18, 1983, a suicide bomber with 2,000 pounds of explosives sped through the gate of U.S. embassy in West Beirut and struck the building.[1]


On May 26, 1983, a strong 7.7 magnitude earthquake strikes Japan, triggering a tsunami that causes over a hundred fatalities, thousands of injuries, many people go missing, and many buildings are destroyed.


On July 1, 1983, a North Korean Ilyushin II-62M jet en-route to Conakry Airport in Guinea crashes into the Fouta Djallon mountains in Guinea-Bissau.

On October 9, 1983 there is an attempted assassination of South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan during an official visit to Rangoon, Burma. Chun survives.

In Sans Soleil,  a space object jettisons in outer space.



Alexandra Stewart’s voiceover mentions Kamikaze Pilots.



Krasna’s letter mentions an earthquake that occurred the previous night.



Paradoxically, Marker’s images of Guinea-Bissau include broken statues of Russian revolutionary leaders; Lenin and Stalin (timestamp 00:30:28).


Stewart reports:   “The Korean catholic opposition leader Kim D. Jeung kidnapped in Tokyo in ’73 by the South Korean gestapo is threatened with a death sentence.   A group has begun a hunger strike.   Some very young militants are trying to gather signatures in his support.”

Two historical events that need to be mentioned even though these events do not correlate to specific images in the film include:

          • May 20, 1983, is publication date of discovery of the HIV virus in Science journal.
          • June 13, 1983, ‘Pioneer 10’ leaves the central Solar System when it passes beyond the orbit of Neptune. Pioneer 10 was NASA’s first mission to the outer planets; its last signal was received in January 2003.[1]  Neptune, the farthest known planet of our solar system is  known as the darkest and coldest.   Only about one thousandth of the sunlight received by our planet reaches Neptune.[2]

The title, Sans Soleil, is an allegorical reference to insurmountable / impossible distance.   The title is also a metaphorical reference to ontological states that potentially hinder clear sight  and connote un-observance or un-perception.

Krasna writes about numerous Japanese ceremonies.  Stewart notes how in one ceremony:

“dolls are piled at the temple of Key Mitsu, consecrated to canon – the goddess of compassion and are burned in public.    I looked at the participants.   I think that the people who saw off the Kamikaze Pilots had the same look on their faces.”

This is an interesting Japanese ritual in light of Jacques Rivette films:   Joan the Maid 1:  The Battles (1994)   and  Joan the Maid 2:  The Prisons (1994).

A similar theme to Harun Farocki’s Eye-Machine 1, is represented in Sans Soleil  –  in a form to capture space on the vertical axis as opposed to an inclined trajectory.  A submarine shoots a rocket from depths at sea.   The camera follows the rocket’s upward movement until it encounters atmospheric air pressure.

Marker makes an explicit reference to memory and media in the following excerpt.  He alludes to the notion of historical memory in year 4001.   Although, the film comprises the historical memory in context of year 4001  –  release date of the film is historical memory for year 4001:

“I remember the images I filmed in the month of January in Tokyo.   They have substituted themselves for my memory.   They are my memory.   I wonder how people remember things who don’t film, don’t photograph, don’t tape.   How has mankind managed to remember?  […]  As we await the year 4001 and its total recall, that’s what the oracles would take out of their long hexagonal boxes that new year may offer us.  […]  A little more power over that memory that runs from camp to camp – like Joan of Arc.?

“The Garden of Forking Paths,” by Jorge Luis Borges, is a fictive account of abstract spaces of historical memory.

The Algerian War (1954 – 1962)  and the Cold War (1947 – 1991)   affect the figurative landscape(s)  –  not as devasting as the World Wars. Virilio mentions ‘broken faces’ which are bound to affect identity.   Rosa Menkam cites Paul Virilio:

“Because the war disfigured, destroyed, and mutilated reality, as much as it did human bodies and outdoor spaces, realist conventions (formerly/formally understood) were no longer reproducible. Thus, many artists could only use some (destroyed or mutilated) form of figuration.”[1]




[1] Rosa Menkman, “Glitch Studies Manifesto” & “The Perception of Glitch” from The Glitch Moment(um)


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