May 1, 2024





We are bound to Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet for their films demanding everything. These filmmakers, as Louis Séguin recently noted, belong "to a nonhierarchical and frontierless clan of rebels, stateless persons and social misfits and this permanent irreducibility joins the challenge of their cinema." Here Danièle Huillet responds to some questions posed to her by Bernard Mezzadri in 1999. (E.R.L.M.)

BM:  In your films, Greco-Roman antiquity is very present (History Lessons, Othon, From the Clouds to the Resistance, The Death of Empedocles, Antigone...), but the reference is always indirect; it passes through the intermediary of the re-workings of Brecht, Corneille, Pavese, and Hölderlin. Could you clarify the reasons for these dual choices?

HUILLET:  Strata, as in geology.

BM:  What particular discipline did the production of tragedies imply for you (or of an opera like Moses and Aaron)? Why this approach?

HUILLET:  No particular discipline. Variations; but the work with the actors or singers, the taming of space, of objects, has always followed, for all the films, whether in "costume" or "modern", a connected method. And Moses and Aaron, because music always says more than the image, only pushed us to be more prudent: how to leave all the possible paths open that lead outside the clearing in the woods, how to not block the imagination of the viewer by imposing images on him. 

BM:  In the introduction of his Dialogues with Leucò, Cesare Pavese defines myth as "a language, a means for expressing––thats is, not something arbitrary, but a breeding-ground of symbols to which is attached, like all language, a substantial particularity of civilization that nothing else can render." Is this expression acceptable to you? If yes, how can such a "performed" discourse be articulated in film language?

HUILLET:  If would be better to have Pavese's text as he wrote it, in Italian... Then it would perhaps not be a formula, but something he felt. Still, that seems, despite the translation, like common sense. As for the articulation, it's easy: the cinema is not a language; it's an apparatus for radiography, a mirror that helps us see... and hear, to discover, under the accumulation of habit and clichés, reality –– the truth?

BM:  Greek tragedy freely stages the conflict between two characters, certain of their right and ready to push it to its logical end; it expresses the impossibility of reconciliation (Antigone is a good example of this). The confrontations are political in nature and are stylized, aesthetically transformed into works characterized, in the words of Jean-Pierre Vernant, by tension and ambiguity. One would be tempted to transpose these remarks to your films in thinking both of their themes and of their structure (tensions between sound and image, text and music, languages or accents similar perhaps to that between a chorus and actors...). Would you agree to a description of your cinema as a whole as "tragic"?

HUILLET:  Sophocles' Creon is perhaps certain of his right, while Brecht's is panic-stricken by power... That you want to call "our" cinema––our films––tragic is a compliment, especially as today's society tries hard to eliminate, to erase the feeling of the tragic, even if the earth, and life, remains tragic. But of course, as in Corneille, the tragic and the comic reinforce each other... Happiness, by flashes, horror, all around. No appeasement.



Eyes Do Not Want to Close at All Times

by C.

One of the obstacles to Huillet and Straub's work is the cinema itself, that is, the way in which cinema has optimized itself into an extremely profitable activity that begins and ends with ratings: a production defines its type of story (police film, romantic comedy, musical, etc., etc.), huge amounts of financing are arranged, crews are formed (perhaps it would be more accurate to say squadrons?), the film enters a rapid production cycle and, at the end of this assembly line, critics classify it with stars. It's an entirely fictional constellation so detached from what's going on around it that it's rare to find the slightest spark of life in these audiovisual products — if they smell of anything, it's money.

But this is the cinema people recognize and expect to find in living rooms and on television, on computers and cell phones. It's a current of images with an incredible force that sucks up everything, that has already spread to TV series and advertising, to one-on-one communication on social networks and from there to everyday life — in flameless gestures and fake intonations.

This way of seeing dulls the eyes (and the spirit, it should be said) and people lose the ability to see what isn't subjected to this destructive formatting. And when I say see, that's exactly what I mean, as the dictionary says: to exercise the sense of sight, it comes before understanding or not understanding, liking or not liking — it's exactly like looking at the sea.

Against the grain, Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub work as if cinema has just been invented, as if the Lumière brothers had filmed the workers leaving the factory yesterday. As if cinema were a witchcraft situation that allows us to better see (and keep) what exists, to see deeper, to see all the implications.

— If we can see, perhaps one day it will be possible to do something unprecedented. That's what their films show us, that there is a hypothesis. Eine neue Welt bauen.


Europe: revue littéraire mensuelle, 77
nos. 837-38, Jan-Feb 1999
Translation: Sally Shafto

Die Antigone des Sophokles nach der Hölderlinschen 
Übertragung für die Bühne bearbeitet von Brecht
1991, Straub/Huillet

1984, Manfred Blank

1976, Straub/Huillet

de Cristina Fernandes
Bicho ruim - 30 Nov. 2023
Translation: Andy Rector

1989 - 2014, Straub/Huillet


Past May Day Dedications to 
Danièle Huillet on Kino Slang 

2007 -  Examine Caesars 
2008 -  Song of Two Humans, But...!
2009 -  This Land is Mine
2010 -  Men Without Women
2011 -  Freedom
2012 -  Small Grasses
2013 -  That's Just What We Intend
2014 -  The Lizards
2015 -  (no post – misery)
2016 -  Complete Animals
2017 -  Huillet at Work (interview)
2017 -  Venez m'aider! (plus Duras on Othon)
2018 -  Straub/Huillet/Talking (interview)
2019 -  Born May 1st. . .
2020 -  We Caught a Political Conscience like One Catches Chickenpox
2021 -  May Night
2022 -  "...progress / away from / the bulk of humanity..."
2023 -  Dialectical at Every Second – Unpublished 1975 Interview with ​​Straub/Huillet by J. Hughes​, ​B. Krohn