Close Up

18 May 2019: Othon

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

"There was a group of people arranged in a semicircle on a hill, on the lawn of the Père Lachaise cemetery, north of Paris, where there are the great memorials of the concentration camps: Ravensbrück, Auschwitz... it is in the corner of the cemetery where you can guess something about the city. Under this hill are buried the last members of the Paris Commune, who were shot in that same place. In the film they are sitting in a semicircle. A semicircle like in the hemicycle of the Greek theatre" – Jean-Marie Straub

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

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

For Eyes Do Not Want to Close at All Times..., Straub and Huillet's first film shot in Italy, they 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.” The film was shot in 16mm, mostly on the Palatine Hill, with contemporary Rome in the background. Here a group of performers, mostly amateurs, including Straub himself, give new life to Corneille’s work, bringing language to the fore, reading through the veins of the text as they recite its lines vertiginously.