Dir/scr: Jean-MarieStraub and Daniele Huillet.It. 2006. 68mins.
A profoundly uncommercialpiece of avant-garde filmmaking, Jean-Marie Straub and DanieleHuillet's TheseEncounters Of Theirs divides 10 non-professional actors into couples, thenhas them take turns in declaiming the DialoguesWith Leuco, Cesare Pavese's abstract, philosophical work. The result isfeature that has something of a cleansing (some would say laxative) effect thatderives from its stubborn cinematic purity: fixed camera angles, long takes,deep-focus, old fashioned 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The directors simply present apiece of 'difficult' literature - made all the more prickly by the faintlywooden, unrhetorical delivery of the actors, allmembers of a Tuscan amateur theatre group - and then challenge the audience toenter the poetry, and the film, on their own uncompromising terms.
As might be expected, therewere mass walk-outs at the Venice press screening, and widespread perplexityabout the decision to screen TheseEncounters Of Theirs in the main competition on the Lido rather then the supposedly moreadventurous Horizons section. But this was hardly Straub and Huillet's fault: the French-born, Italian-based directorialduo have always worked on the fringes of the industry, producing most of theirfilms themselves. Aside from TheChronicle Of Anna MagadalenaBach (1967), few of their films have been released in any conventionalsense, finding an audience instead in festivals, film clubs and retrospectives.
These Encounters Of Theirs will be no exception to this rule: at 68 minutes itwill, however, go down as one of the shortest films to play in feature competitionat an A-list event.
Pavese's Dialogues With Leuco were written fiveyears before the author's suicide in 1950 at the age of 41; they consist of 26philosophical conversations on such subjects as death, human folly and destiny,between figures from classical mythology or literature.
Straub and Huillet had already drawn on the first six dialogues intheir 1979 film Dalla Nube Alla Resistenza; here theytake on the last five. The five couples who recite the five dialogues are filmedin bucolic settings: amid vines, in a forest grove, by a stream, under an olivetree, on a mountain.
As they recite, almostimmobile, in heroic poses, the fixed camera, having found its distance, simplyobserves. Sometimes we cut to a medium shot; there is even one long slow panthrough the forest. Drama is almost absent, except for a hint of flirtation inthe fourth dialogue between a muse and a shepherd.
A brief burst of classicalstring music is allowed in only right at the end, just before the non-existentcredits. But the rigour of the exercise is impressive if one can fend off theflight impulse: with the camera refusing to tell us what to see, we have timeto wander around the arcadian scenes that are framedhere - and maybe even fall asleep under a shady tree.
Pierre Grise Productions
c/o Pierre Grise Distribution