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

"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.

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

Programme 2: Othon

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. Straub defined the film as an intrigue about “the decadence of the Roman Empire… and about the absence of the people in politics, which persists to this day."

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.

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

Programme 3: Les Antiquités de Rome

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 lead 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

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

Programme 4: The Death of Empedocles

Friedrich Hölderlin’s drama The Death of Empedocles (Der Tod des Empedokles) 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.

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

Introduced by artists and filmmakers Silvia Maglioni and Graeme Thomson.

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

Programme 5: Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach

"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. 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

Dialogue of Shadows, Danièle Huillet & Jean-Marie Straub, 2014, 28 min, French with English subtitles
Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, Danièle Huillet & Jean-Marie Straub, 1967, 93 min, English version

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

Three films by Jean-Marie Straub. 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. The Aquarium and the Nation (L'Aquarium et la Nation) is a reflection on history, the passage of time and the fate of man. 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 Huillet.

A Tale by Michel de Montaigne, Jean-Marie Straub, 2013, 34 min, French with English subtitles
The Aquarium and the Nation, Jean-Marie Straub, 2015, 31'18 min, French with English subtitles
Where Are You, Jean-Marie Straub?, Jean-Marie Straub, 2016, 9 min

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.

BOX OFFICE (12:00 - 23.30): 02037847970






International Workers’ Day: Class Relations Wednesday 01.05.19 7:30 pm Book
Othon Saturday 18.05.19 6:00 pm Book
Les Antiquités de Rome Saturday 18.05.19 8:30 pm Book
The Death of Empedocles Sunday 19.05.19 8:00 pm Book
Where Are You, Jean-Marie Straub? Wednesday 22.05.19 7:00 pm Book
Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach Wednesday 22.05.19 8:30 pm Book