Close Up

1 - 29 May 2019: The Films of Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub


Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub met in 1954, and in fifty-two years of shared life and work directed one of the most distinctive, beautiful and uncompromising oeuvres of modern cinema. Their films have consistently confronted the politics of post-war Europe, beginning with the rearmament of Germany, exposing layers of history in order to reveal the continuity of the violence of the past in the present. Their vast filmography, a sensual cinema of the eye and ear, is as rich as the many texts and documents that have often served as the basis of their films: music by Bach and Schoenberg, writings by Brecht, Hölderlin, Duras, Kafka, Pavese and Vittorini. They have often worked with forgotten or overlooked classical texts, giving them new life and political relevance. The films bring stories of resistance to the surface, examining relations of class and power, and proposing a Marxist critique of capitalism across linguistic and territorial borders. Created with intense rigour, beauty and enthusiasm, each of their films demands our full attention at every moment, reinventing cinema as something still surprising and necessary. They reflect Huillet and Straub’s creativity and generosity, their solidarity with the people and the communities with whom they worked, as well as their respect for language and nature. Critic Louis Séguin once wrote that Straub and Huillet: "…belong to a non-hierarchical and frontier-less clan of rebels, stateless persons and social misfits, and the challenge of their cinema matches this permanent irreducibility."

Despite the importance and influence of their work, there has not been a UK retrospective of Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub's films since the early 1990s. Close-Up is thrilled to be part of this three-month multi-venue programme, presenting a selection of their features and shorts, as well as the films Straub shot on his own after 2006, which reaffirm with equal strength the aesthetic and political principles that had guided their previous works.

Programme 1: International Workers’ Day: Class Relations

Class Relations
Danièle Huillet & Jean-Marie Straub, 1984, 130 min
German with English subtitles

Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet at Work on a Film based on Franz Kafka’s Amerika
Harun Farocki, 1983, 26 min
German with English subtitles

"Kafka, for us, is the only major poet of industrial civilisation, I mean, a civilisation where people depend on their work to survive. That’s why there is this permanent fear of losing your job, there are traces left by the fact of having been afraid, and there is constantly misery that appears and is threatening" – Jean-Marie Straub

Huillet and Straub's adaptation of Kafka's Amerika screens in a new digital restoration with Harun Farocki's Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet at Work on a Film based on Franz Kafka’s Amerika. read more

Programme 2: Othon

Every Revolution Is a Throw of the Dice
Danièle Huillet & Jean-Marie Straub, 1977, 10 min
French with English subtitles

For their first film shot in Italy, Huillet and Straub adapted Othon – a lesser-known late historical and political play written by the French dramatist Pierre Corneille, inspired by Tacitus’s Histories and first performed in 1664. The play, set in Ancient Rome during the last days of the short-lived rule of Emperor Galba, deals with the court intrigues and political machinations of the ruling class and the opportunism of the ambitious senator Otho as he plots his way to power, amid the intricacies of tragic, (un)requited and impossible love. read more

Eyes Do Not Want to Close at All Times, or, Perhaps One Day Rome will Permit Herself to Choose in her Turn (Othon)
Danièle Huillet & Jean-Marie Straub, 1969, 88 min
French with English subtitles

Titled after a line by French historian Jules Michelet about the Paris Commune, Every Revolution Is a Throw of the Dice is a collective recitation of Stéphane Mallarmé’s typographical poem A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance. read more

Programme 3: Les Antiquités de Rome

Les Antiquités de Rome
Jean-Claude Rousseau, 1989, 105 min, 16mm
French (subtitles on handout)

For over thirty years, Jean-Claude Rousseau has built one of the most unique works of French auteur cinema, as intimate as mysterious, between documentary and fiction. He has collaborated with Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub, who admired his work.

"Can one find Rome in Rome? Once all roads had led to Rome. But the time has gone, and the remains are being reconstructed. Rain pours down from the sky through a hole on a dome. The ghost of the past is in the present. And the present, too, starts to disappear. An ode to the ones that are disappearing is the light that traces objects. Geometrical shapes like circle, triangle, and square appear and disappear as light changes. The record of time overlapped with construction noises, shows an eternal image, a shapeless sky. Image is liberated through stare and waiting, and the film must start all over again." – Jean-Claude Rousseau read more

Programme 4: The Death of Empedocles

The Death of Empedocles, or When the Green of the Earth Will Glisten for You Anew
Danièle Huillet & Jean-Marie Straub, 1986, 132 min
German with English subtitles

Friedrich Hölderlin’s drama The Death of Empedocles is a tragedy on the death of the pre-Socratic Greek thinker and poet Empedocles of Acragas, composed in three incomplete versions from 1798 to 1799 and never published during the poet’s lifetime. The filmmakers are faithful to the text of Hölderlin’s first version: the first act deals with the political dispute and banishment of Empedocles from the city and the second with the philosopher’s conflict with the gods, his argument about the value of life and his decision to end his life in the volcanic crater of Mount Etna. After eighteen months of rehearsals with the remarkable actors cast for the film, the filmmakers staged this "oratorio without music" in outdoor locations in Sicily using direct sound and the available surrounding light. All the elements at play in the film – words, sounds, the gestures, light and nature – exert a force and tension that gives this film its telluric and vivid strength. read more

Filmtip: The Death of Empedocles
Harun Farocki, 1986, 7 min
German with English subtitles

In Filmtip: The Death of EmpedoclesHarun Farocki talks to Andreas Rauch, who plays Empedocles in the film by Huillet and Straub. read more

Introduced by artists and filmmakers Silvia Maglioni and Graeme Thomson.

Programme 5: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

Dialogue of Shadows
Danièle Huillet & Jean-Marie Straub, 2014, 28 min
French with English subtitles

Dialogue of Shadows (Dialogue d'ombres) originates from a short early novel written by George Bernanos, which Huillet and Straub wanted to bring to the cinema when they first met in the 1950s. read more

Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach
Danièle Huillet & Jean-Marie Straub, 1967, 93 min
English version

"The starting point for our Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, was the idea to make a film where we used music not as accompaniment, nor as commentary, but as aesthetic matter…" – Jean-Marie Straub

Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach was Huillet and Straub’s first project, conceived in the 1950s. It is the result of years of research about the music and biography of Johann Sebastian Bach. The facts of Bach’s life are spoken by his wife, Anna Magdalena Bach, who reads from documents, letters, texts and other elements. The musical moments, performed by Gustav Leonhardt and various ensembles, were shot in single takes, in direct sound, and are presented according to the date of their composition, with period instruments and orchestrations in the same rooms where Bach conducted his music. read more

Programme 6: Where Are You, Jean-Marie Straub?

A Tale by Michel de Montaigne
Jean-Marie Straub, 2013, 34 min
French with English subtitles

In A Tale by Michel de Montaigne (Un Conte de Michel de Montaigne) the philosopher recounts an incident that happened to himself, and succeeds in showing us how an experience that is painful or threatening can be transfigured and the danger that lies in salvation. read more

The Aquarium and the Nation
Jean-Marie Straub, 2015, 31'18 min
French with English subtitles

The Aquarium and the Nation (L'Aquarium et la Nation) is a reflection on history, the passage of time and the fate of man. read more

Where Are You, Jean-Marie Straub?
Jean-Marie Straub, 2016, 9 min

With Where Are You, Jean-Marie Straub? (Où en êtes-vous, Jean-Marie Straub?), the director offers a short and personal response to a commission of the Centre Pompidou in Paris on the occasion of the 2016 retrospective dedicated to himself and Danièle Huilletread more

The retrospective is organised by the Goethe-Institut London in collaboration with BELVA Film and in partnership with BFI Southbank, the ICA, the Institut Français, Close-Up Film Centre, King’s College London, the German Screen Studies Network, the Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Images (BIMI), and the Whitechapel Gallery. With the kind support from the Embassy of Switzerland in the UK, the Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Londra, the Instituto Camões, BIRMAC (Birkbeck Interdisciplinary Research in Media and Culture) and the Department of German, King’s College London. With thanks to Miguel Abreu Gallery, New York, for their cooperation in bringing the 35mm prints to London.