Level Five, 1997

Exploring similar territory as Russian filmmaker Aleksandr Sokurov on the continuity of collective history, spiritual desolation, and immanence, Level Five also serves as a thoughtful and reverent homage to Alain Resnais’ films on the interpenetration of memory and the subconscious. Presented as a series of video feed confessionals by a woman (Catherine Belkhodja) to her recently deceased lover as she articulates her increasing frustration over her inability to finish his video game by reaching Level Five, a game of strategy that, in order to cross over, entails a victory in what would prove to be the final, decisive battle of the Pacific War: the Battle of Okinawa. At first, the task seemed simple enough – repositioning planes and troops to defend the region that, during the actual landing by the Americans, were nowhere to be found. But the seemingly expedient strategy of logistical re-appropriation has an adverse affect on the game and causes the system to crash. Gradually, the woman who calls herself Laura (a name given by her lover after the enigmatic, titular siren of the Otto Preminger film) begins to reconstruct a true historical portrait of the decisive battle through information derived from an internet-styled, global virtual network known as Optional World Link (or OWL, a tongue in cheek reference to Marker’s production company Argos Films and its emblematic mascot), further retreating into a hermetic world of immersive retrospection and irreconcilable grief – an unlikely union of kindred souls between a woman who lives within the memories of her past and a contemporary, increasingly Western-assimilative nation suffering from a “collective amnesia” of its cultural history.

While Marker makes direct allusions to the Resnais films, Hiroshima mon amour (Laura refers to her Level Five quest as an “Okinawa mon amour”) and Last Year at Marienbad (in her interaction with a Marienbad game that curiously “ends” with the inconclusive prompt, “I won, but we may go on.”), the film is also a thematic reference to Je t’aime, je t’aime and in particular, Muriel: the former, as the past plays out in a recursive loop in the present from which only death can offer an escape, and the latter, as the hidden transgressions of the past resurfaces in the consciousness of the present. Furthermore, the bifurcation between “official” history and personal memory that pervades Resnais’ Muriel and La Guerre est finie – a theme foreshadowed by the genesis of the heroine’s name – is similarly explored through interlaced interviews, historical documentation, and news footage that reveal Okinawa, not as a battle lost, but one never fought – a sute-ishi or a piece sacrificed to the save the game in Go – in which civilian casualty (through bombings, armed combat, and mass suicide) greatly outnumbered military casualty. Another aspect of the film’s exposition lies in the impossibility and limitations of perfect memory, a realization that a state of total recall cannot be achieved because of its inevitable assimilation into consciousness. As in Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour, the heroine’s realization that a perfect re-enactment of human tragedy is unfilmable similarly pervades Laura’s despair in her inability to reconstruct the battle completely without wholly existing in that past. It is this state of total immersion (a state achieved by the womb-like apparatus of Je t’aime, je t’aime) that is reflected in Laura’s final recording, as she increasingly magnifies the camera focus to the point of indeterminate abstraction: a kind of cognitive visual equivalent of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in which a perfect assimilation of the past is impossible without creating irresolvable ambiguity with the existential state of the present.

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