Price: € 8
Jean-Marie Straub (1933-2022)
Together with Courtisane, Art Cinema OFFoff salutes Jean-Marie Straub who passed away at the end of last year, shortly before he would turn 90 years old. We do so on the birthday of Danièle Huillet. The couple was inseparable for half a century, sharing life and work until Huillet’s death in 2006. Up until 2020, Straub continued to make more than twenty short films that he signed alone.
Straub and Huillet’s oeuvre is one of the most inventive, generous and uncompromising of modern cinema. Their vast filmography, a sensual cinema of the eye and the ear, is as rich as the many texts that have often served as the basis of their films: music by Bach and Schoenberg, paintings by Cézanne, writings by Brecht, Hölderlin, Duras, Kafka, Pavese and Vittorini. Created with intense rigour, each of their films demands our full attention at every moment, reinventing cinema as something still surprising and necessary. Their cinema is one of the uttermost concentration, capturing the whirlwind of the world in every tiny inch of matter. The sensible and the intelligible cannot be separated. That is what they have learned from the German poet Friedrich Hölderlin: the dream of the community to come is not embodied in laws and governments, but in gestures of life and forms of nature. The literary texts are not more important than the people reciting them, the space they find themselves in or the movement of light and colour shimmering through. What matters, in the end, is the sensible intensity which is always there, always in the present, affirming the enduring capacity for the construction of a new common world: a community of sense.
New 35mm film prints with English subtitles from Miguel Abreu Gallery in New York. In collaboration with Courtisane
Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet - 'Schwarze Sünde'
Two years after Der Tod des Empedokles, Huillet and Straub return to Friedrich Hölderlin’s unfinished, late-18th-century drama. Shot in the dazzling sunlight and mottled shadows of a clearing on the foothills of the Etna, it was there that the Greek pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles legendarily cast himself into the volcanic fires to prove his immortality. We find him, already far from the people and the politics of the city, nearing his self-sacrifice, debating with his loyal disciple Pausanias and his former teacher Manes. The characters that have remained walk on black ashes like ghosts of another world. It is a text of farewell and remembrance. At the end of the film, a strange woman – Huillet herself – replaces the vanished. Sitting on a slope, she conjures up “the living spirit”, wishes for “a flood after the drought” and then, abruptly, turns her head to another, new place or future offscreen and asks, “Neue Welt?” At that point Hölderlin’s fragment also falls silent.
“When I was a student at Nancy University, we were given a typescript entitled La Paix / Der Frieden by Hölderlin. When Danièle and I met there in 1954, I was walking around with this poem in my pocket. She didn’t know German and she asked me to translate it for her. But there was another text by Hölderlin that deeply touched me and that I knew well, it was this kind of sketch, a fragment of the chorus at the end of the first act, that Danièle says at the conclusion of Schwarze Sünde.”
“There was above all the desire to recover a topography. It’s a very hard place, there are no trees, no shade. It’s much more difficult to say the text like that in the sun. It’s a constant struggle with the sun. For the first and probably the last time, we wanted to go back with the same actors, like Ozu who always used his same old actor… We have returned to this place, just like John Ford returned to Monument Valley. In Der Tod Des Empedokles, there is no valley between our point of view and the mountain, in Schwarze Sünde, there is an enormous valley, we see it and can feel it. In the first film, there is a scenic idea, a theatrical stage, here it is something else. Let’s say modestly that this is more like Blind Husbands, which was the only film that Erich von Stroheim was able to edit and belongs to him from start to finish. One would be a more theatrical film and the other maybe a film-film.” (Jean-Marie Straub, Cahiers du cinéma, 1989)
Jean-Marie Straub - Le genou d'Artémide
Jean-Marie Straub’s first film without Danièle and a love poem to her. Straub once again chose a conversation from Dialogues of Leuco, Cesare Pavese’s collection of short stories that was also on the basis of Dalla Nube alla Resistenza (1979) and Quei Loro Incontri (2006) when they were still together. It is not just any dialogue, but Pavese’s most personal one that tears open a painful abyss between a mortal, Endymion, and the woman he loves, the goddess Artemide.
Straub stages the dialogue in which Endymion tells the story of his encounter with Artemide to a stranger on the slopes of the forest of Buti, the small Tuscan town where he and Huillet traditionally shot all of their Italian-language films since Sicilia! (1999) with a group of non-professional actors from the local Teatro Comunale. As a kind of tomb, the film starts with a black screen lasting four minutes, accompanied by the final verse from Gustav Mahler’s Abschied (Farewell) from Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of Earth). This music is echoed at the end by Heinrich Schütz’s seventeenth-century Klagelied (Song of Lament) – two mourning-works for the composer’s young daughter and late wife, respectively, reappearing here as a ciphered message from the one who remained to the one who remains in him.
The film thus rises from a chant in the dark to disappear in the woods with the whisper of the wind after a brief journey of the camera through the forest, now empty and silent of human voices, but inhabited by the memory of Huillet, her past presence and present absence. “Nature has ten million times the imagination of the most imaginative of artists.” (Jean-Marie Straub)
Jean-Marie Straub - 'Où en êtes-vous, Jean-Marie Straub?'
Shot in his house in Rolle, Switzerland, Jean-Marie Straub offers, with his ability to surprise, a short and personal response to a commission of the Centre Pompidou. We see him with his collaborator and second partner Barbara Ulrich at home. It’s one of his simplest films: four shots, little observations of the world – a cat, a ray of sunlight, a small boat passing in the background.
Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet - Schwarze Sünde DE • 1989 • 42' • colour • 35mm • de lang • en sub
Jean-Marie Straub - Le genou d'Artémide FR/IT • 2008 • 26' • colour • 35mm • it lang • en sub
Jean-Marie Straub - Où en êtes-vous, Jean-Marie Straub ? FR • 2016 • 10' • colour • digital