Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Death of Empedocles

(Danièle Huillet & Jean-Marie Straub, France/Germany, 1987)

I'm tempted to describe this film, my first Straub-Huillet, as hyper-austere.  But that doesn't quite do it justice.  Poised, incisive, and unexpectedly sensual, with a special eye (and ear) for the ever-shifting features of the natural world.  I'm still unfamiliar with their overall project, their aesthetic ideas, and their politics, but a brief gloss led to the impression that their approach was somewhat Brechtian - the renunciation of any dramatic affect, with the end goal being the awakening of revolutionary consciousness among their imagined audience. I'm not sure they got very far with this, but the work, which tried my patience and my ability to focus (parts of the text were un-subtitled) has an undeniable power.  At times, it was almost trancelike, the way I was attempting to catch and follow the line of thought, usually expressed with as little inflection as possible by the actor, and which was, after all, rendered in 18th-century German dramatic verse.  Where it worked best for me, it seemed it could've used a good deal more actual drama, but there was something oddly captivating about the blankness.  A prelude to more investigation.  Preceded by Black Sin, an even more stripped-down version of a different version of the source play. 

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