Sans Soleil (1983); Chris Marker, director

There’s nothing remotely sci-fi about this film except for the Japanese synthesizer that will make images out of musical tones – which may in fact be real but I’d prefer to think is imaginary.

Sans Soleil is a travelogue, taking documentary footage and presenting them against fictitious letters written by a cameraman on a quest to understand the nature of memory. It is a dense as hell movie – one you can watch three times and still not fully follow – but it is endlessly fascinating, amusing and, most importantly, not a chore to watch.

Director Chris Marker has had quite a career path. He started as an editor (he worked on the Holocaust documentary Night and Fog) and today makes shorts and is a mixed-media artist (his installations can be found in some of the finer modern art museums, and he was among the first to play around with CD-Roms as art.) For my money, he hit the high water mark with this intoxicating cinema-poem about chasing down elusive dreams.

There’s no real way to describe the movie without using all sorts of fancy-pants sounding words, so just, please, do yourself a favor and rent it. The Criterion Collection disc comes bundled with his short film La Jetee, a story rendered in voice over and still images that was remade by Terry Gilliam as Twelve Monkeys

Stalker (1979); Andrei Tarkovsky, director

Another one with almost nothing to clue you in that this is sci-fi. . .other than people laying in the grass and having visions of running water and religious iconography float along in long, moody tracking shots.

Deep in a warded off “zone” sits “The Room,” which is rumored to make your dreams come true. The government doesn’t want you to get there so to get there you need a guide. Cut to a lot of spooky shots of smoke and people behaving incoherently. Trust me, it’s a trip, and actually more interesting, I feel, than the director’s more famous (and more overtly sci-fi) film Solaris.

The above video is a fan edit. There’s not much out there about this one, but if you can track it down you won’t be disappointed.

Defending Your Life (1991); Albert Brooks, director

Calling theological subjects science-fiction may be inflammatory to some, but if Marvel can brush away the divine aspects of Asgardians by simply saying “hey, they’re aliens,” I think this is okay.

Before he was the baddie in Drive Albert Brooks was an envelope-pushing comedian and filmmaker. In Defending Your Life he explains that after you die, your soul then goes to, as he puts it, an EPCOT Center-esque place where you are, essentially, put on trial. If it is deemed that you lived your life subservient to your fears, you don’t get to “move on.”

There is cool architecture and people in white robes, so I consider in sci-fi.

It’s a very funny film with a high concept and interesting moral. This one hit me a little harder than the more revered Groundhog Day.

The American Astronaut (2001); Cory McAbee, director

In a setting that’s part-dustbowl/part-future The American Astronaut has sequences that are taken directly from the illogic of your dreams. Of course, I’m assuming that your dreams include spaceships with interiors that are just, like, floating rooms from thrift stores. (No? It’s just me? Okay.)

The American Astronaut is one of the very few science fiction experiences that will remind you of an off-Broadway play, as the sequence above will exemplify. But it isn’t B-picture pulp and it isn’t campy (despite a premise involving kidnapping “The Boy Who Actually Saw A Woman’s Breast” in an attempt to have him sire offspring for the Queen of Venus.) Strange? Yes. But campy? Somehow, not. Definitely worth checking out if possible.

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