Translated by Florian Weigl
Previously re-published as Un receuil de matériaux in a French translation by Danièle Huillet in Cahiers du cinéma Nr. 305 (11/1979)
Moon, Sun, Water, Fire;
Blood On The Field:
A Collection of Materials
by Manfred Blank in Filmkritik Nr. 268 | 04/1979 | S.158 – 173
Oedipus and Tiresias sit on a cart. One can see them from behind. Two cows pull the cart forward on a road, passing meadows, cornfields and harvested fields. They wonder what one talks about, when one speaks about the gods. The space through which they move is constructed by humans; cultivated land.
An oak tree on a mountain. In the oak tree sits Nephele, The Cloud. In front of the tree stands Ixion. Ixion pushed his father-in-law into a pit full of burning coals, but Zeus had forgiven him for this crime and even invited him to his table. When Ixion lusts after Zeus’s wife Hera, Zeus sends him a cloud made in her image. In Greek, ‘cloud’ translates as ‘nephele’. In his foreword to Dialogues with Leucò, Pavese doubts that Ixion and The Cloud coupled to create the race of the centaurs, hybrid beings with the upper body of a human and the lower body of a horse. He seems more certain that Ixion must eternally suffer for his crimes tied to a continuously spinning wheel of fire.
Here two different strands of thought, which are at first glance completely different from each other, are interwoven. The separation between the world of the humans and the realm of the gods, the prohibition to intermingle, the establishment of laws set outside of nature and independent of the laws of men; and the weather magic, the rain sacrifice. The Cloud brings the rain, the fire awakens the ground and once the fires are ablaze, rain falls. However, the fire is also connected to the bloodletting, the human sacrifices.
Two poor peasants, father and son, light a bonfire (a falò) during their night in the mountains. They pray to Zeus for rain. The son asks the father about his reasoning behind the ritual and the father tells him the story of Athamas and the origin of human sacrifices. While he narrates, the viewer watches the moon. The gods, he says, are just like the masters; they either are the masters or they are like the masters.
The bastard, who flew from the fascists to America, and his friend Nuto, a carpenter, walk through the hilly vineyards by Santo Stefano Belbo. The repatriate wants to know what has happened during his absence. The camera walks in front of them on a winding road. On one of their walks, Nuto confesses that there is something true about the fires — it makes for a better harvest — and about the moon. Superstition is only what causes bad things to happen. Whoever uses the moon and the fire to steal from the peasants would be an imbecile himself and ought to be publicly (in piazza) executed.
What is a film about?
Straub-Huillet’s films relate texts to places and landscapes; and from there on to humans, humanity in general and these specific people who perform / play / recite in the film.
DALLA NUBE ALLA RESISTENZA (FROM THE CLOUDS TO THE RESISTANCE — WHAT THE FILM IS ABOUT — 103 MINUTES — FIRSTLY
L’INSTIUT NATIONAL DE L’AUDIOVISUEL présente / una produzione di Danièle Huillet e Jean-Marie Straub / con la RAI-TV, Rete 2, la JANUS Film & Fernsehen e ARTIFICIAL EYE / DALLA NUBE ALLA RESISTENZA / Testi di Cesare Pavese DIALOGHI CON LEUCÒ Einaudi 1947, LA LUNA E I FALÒ Einaudi 1950 / PRIMA PARTE / 1 La nube Olimpia Carlisi, Issione Guido Lombardi / 2 Ippoloco Gino Felici, Sarpedonte Lori Pelosini / 3 Edipo Walter Pardini, Tiresia Ennio Lauricella / 4 primo cacciatore Andrea Bacci, secondo cacciatore Lori Cavallini / 5 Litierse Francesco Ragusa, Eracle Fiorangelo Pucci / 6 Padre Dolando Bernardini, Figlio Andreas Filippi / SECONDA PARTE / il bastardo Mauro Monni, Nuto Carmelo Lacorte, il Valino Luigi Giordanello, Cinto Mario di Mattia, il cavaliere Paolo Cinanni, quelli nel bar Maria Eugenia T., Alberto Signetto, Paolo Pederzolli, Ugo Bertone, Gianni Canfarelli, Domenico Carrosso, Sandro Signetto, Antonio Mingrone, il parroco Gianni Toti / Musica dritta da Gustav Leonhardt / Suono Louis Hochetm Georges Vaglio, Trascrizione FONORETE / Fotografia Saverio Diamanti, Gianni Canfarelli / Parrucchiera Silvana Todero, Costumi CANTINI, Calzature POMPEI / Elettricista Francesco Ragusa, Macchinista Gianfranco Baldacci / Assistenti Leo Mingrone, Isaline Panchaud, Manfred Blank, Rotraud Kühn / Vincent Nordon, Stéphanie de Mareuil, Paolo Pederzolli / Sviuppa e stampa di LUCIANO VITTORI.
What the film is about (secondly)
The film is based on two texts. They are neither intercut via montage nor cinematized. Of the 27 Dialogues only six appear in the film and maybe a third of what constitutes La luna e I faló is adapted. A film about how two texts of one author correspond with each other as well as a film about how these texts are treated as material. Though they were written in quick succession to each other, they are never treated as a slice of the author’s life / autobiographically. Pavese’s character exists as an attitude, an approach and how the images, the shots, relate to the words.
20th February 
(Preface to the Dialoghetti)
Had it been possible, we would gladly have done without so much mythology. But we are convinced that myths are a language, a means of expression; not arbitrary, but pregnant with symbols that, like all languages, have a special significance which can be expressed in no other way. […] Here we have contented ourselves with Greek myths, in view of the present, very understandable, popular vogue for them and their immediate, traditional acceptability. […] We are convinced that a great revelation can come only from persistently pressing on through something difficult, simply because it is difficult, we have nothing in common with those who flit from one thing to another, experimenting, seeking adventure. We know that the surest, quickest way to find amazement is to fix the mind firmly upon the same object all the time. The moment will come when that object will seem miraculously, as though we had never seen it before.
(Cesar Pavese, The Business Of Living)
The Dialogues are neither dramatic, meaning they are not written for the stage, nor do they function as philosophical arguments. Every character has a well-known background of which the reader is conscious, just as he is conscious of how their respective stories end. Every dialogue has a situation and a theme. They talk about two things simultaneously: myth is both presented and analyzed. As if, the person who speaks is also the person who is performed. Both aspects are treated equally. Something is both life and a model for life and both exist in our minds.
11th March 
The thing is not to analyze but to represent – in a vivid way, with analysis implied.
(Cesar Pavese, The Business Of Living)
When Ixion faces Nephele, he tucks away his axe in his belt as if he had just killed [someone]. In his shots, he stands near the slope and the descending hillsides of the mountain. The first two-shot between them is filmed from below. For a moment, we see him in the foreground, behind him The Cloud, sitting in the oak tree. All the consecutive shots show only one of them, filmed from a medium height. Nephele is always slightly framed from below, Ixion from above. The age in which different creatures intermingled has passed. In the minds of the humans the gods become strangers; they remove themselves from human perception — Nephele, sitting in the oak tree, is an incorporeal entity with the looks of Hera, more an illusion than a body — and reconfigure themselves as laws. Ixion, there is a law and we must obey it, reads the first sentence of the dialogue La nube, The Cloud.
Hippolochus is the son of Bellerophon, who — by command of the gods — killed the chimera, a beast with the body of three animals: the front of a lion, the middle of a goat and the back of a snake. With her fiery breath, she had laid waste to the country. Bellerophon is the son of Glaucus, who fed his horses with human flesh, and the nephew of Sisyphus, who cheated death several times before he got sentenced to his famous punishment either for his moral conduct or because he disclosed one of Zeus’ affairs. Sarpedon, a nephew of Hippolochus and thus a grandson of Bellerophon, spied on his grandfather, old and in tatters, cursing the gods as he wanders across the barren land. They had him kill the chimera and now as he has advanced in age they punish him for the deed. Sarpedon reports to Hippolochus in the dialogue La chimera, the chimera.
Oedipus, who unbeknownst to him killed his father and married his mother, but is to be enlightened about his prophecy by Tiresias, asks the blind priest about the role the gods have played in the stories which are told about him. Tiresias describes these stories — going blind, living seven years as a woman — as a process of personal self-realization. The gods could only put a name on it – I cechi, the blind ones.
Two hunters shot a wolf. He is Lycaon, king of Arcadia, who was turned into a wolf by Zeus. Lycaon was infamous for his cruelty. When Zeus visited him in his human form, Lycaon served him the flesh of a child. The hunters question if they have not killed a man. They decide to bury the skinned cadaver, because in their eyes even Lycaon’s wolf form resembles his human form. L’uomo-lupo, the wolf-man.
Herakles, the vanquisher and the unvanquished, visits the Phrygian ruler Lityerses as his guest. The latter wants to first dine Herakles and then have him be killed to fertilize the fields with his blood after the harvest. Herakles asks about the origins and rituals of these human sacrifices. He proposes a competition between them: He who can reap less shall be sacrificed. Lityerses will lose and become the final human sacrifice – the dialogue L’ospite, the guest or the host.
The sacrifice of the shepherds in the dialogue I fuochi, the fire, comes close to a parody. When it rains, when it rains everywhere, says the father, at their household honey and milk will suffice, animals can be slaughtered at the big farms.
The story of Athamas, as he tells it, is turned into a type of satyr play: Anathemas as the henpecked husband, Ino as his dominating wife. Nephele, Athamas’s first wife, appears as a cloud and inspires Ino to sacrifice Athamas instead of the two escaped stepsons. Moments before Athamas’ sacrifice, the rain extinguishes the fires of the pyre. The father understands this as a sign of the complicity between the gods and the masters. The treatment here diminishes the complexity of the Nephele-Phrixos-Athamas-myth, similar to how nativity plays diminish Lukas’ narration of the Christmas story.
13th May 
Collect all your typical situations (you were born for this):
Violence and blood in the fields
merry-making on the hills
a walk around the summit
the sea from the shore …
Luckily, these situations are many.
26. Nov. ‘49
Is this not the theme of The Moon and the Bonfires?
(Cesar Pavese, The Business Of Living)
Someone who calls himself ‘un bastardo’, a bastard, and gets called the same by the dignitaries of the village. They are all bastards. It’s our money they want. The land and the money, like in Russia. He comes from America where he made something out of himself back to Italy where fascism has ended. He was a foundling, raised by peasants from Piedmont for compensation. He returned to search for his roots, a specific piece of land that concerns him. Maybe my father will spring up too. Maybe he wants to buy a piece of land. Those who remained on the farm he was raised on have all died. Now Valino, his wife, the grandmother and his son Cinto, the cripple, who suffers from a numb leg, run the farm. The estate belongs to a landowner who took the place of the sovereign, under whom the bastard worked as a servant before he left for Genoa to become a technician and then in a hurry took the boat to America to escape the fascists. With Nuto, the carpenter and musician, whom he admired when he was a boy, the bastard walks along the roads and the mountainside and catches up with what happened in his absence. Nuto stopped playing music, some arranged themselves with the fascists, the partisan movement started. Nuto did not participate, they would have burnt my house, but he stayed in contact. Two corpses were found: traitors, executed by the partisans. Something begins to change in the village; in a funeral speech, the priest speaks out against the resistenza. The bastard buys Cinto a knife and Cinto wants to keep it all for himself. Valino fights with the landowner over beans and potatoes. He angrily beats his wife and sets fire to the house and the farm. Everything burns down and the wife and the grandmother die in the flames. Only Cinto can save himself, he has his knife. Valino hangs himself. The bastard gives Cinto to Nuto as an adoptive son. He no longer wants to stay; maybe he plans to return to America. Nuto tells him how Satina, the youngest and most beautiful daughter of his former sovereign, died a traitor, shot and burnt by the partisans.
This is only a small part of the novel, partially narrated in the present tense of the prose, partly through the memories exchanged between the bastard and Nuto.
There are no flashbacks in the film; all the memories are narrated. There is also narration covering the night in which the farm burns down and Cinto’s family dies. One sees the tunnel as a black strip, four and a half minutes of horror. As in the novel, the bastard narrates this in the past tense.
The film, Straub says, would be a kind of NICHT VERSÖHNT [Not Reconciled] but about Italy and in two parts. Yet how the film deciphers the making of mythology as a popular historiography also recalls MOSES UND ARON.
What the film is about (thirdly)
In MOSES UND AARON, the amphitheater is both the stage for the filming of an opera and the desert through which the Jewish people wander, a plain of sand. In FORTINI / CANI, a long pan shows the mountains, streets and villages on which German fascists killed civilians. The pan is not subtitled; the only text that appears is a brief glimpse of a memorial plaque. The way the film frames these landscapes lets them speak for themselves. In TOUTE REVOLUTION EST UN COUP DE DES [Every Revolution is a Throw of the Dice], nine people sit on a hillock at the Parisian graveyard Père Lachaise near the mur des fédérés and recite a poem by Mallarmé. The graveyard, its history and its relation to the commune unlocks the poem and the film.
Three examples of Straub-Huillet’s work in which place almost becomes the subject matter.
Deep in the south of the Toscana, south of Grosseto and along the coast, there is a flat piece of land called Maremma. Once it was an inaccessible, swampy land: The bird, which lands here, loses its feathers and I lost someone dear to me there.
In the village of Alberese, where a ridge splits the lowlands between the mountains and the coast, rests a house on top of a hill. From its large patio, one overlooks the cultivated land with its small canals on the one side and the ridge on the other. In a small wicker chair, leaned against the balustrade, sits Lityerses and faces the lowlands. Heracles stands in front of the balustrades, siding with the ridge. In a second shot, one sees the cornfield Herakles overlooks, stretching all the way to the hillside with a blue, almost unclouded sky floating above it. One hears the frogs squeak in the dikes. A short straight out of Murnau. City Girl? No, Murnau in general… It took work to cultivate this hostile, forbidding land. It still carries the sign of its history. It took work and human lives.
Mount Serra, approximately 900 meters high, is located between Pisa and Lucca. It is rough terrain; the type of mountain that refuses to be climbed. At approximately 600 meters’ height, there is a parking lot near a tin shack. From there on arched footways follow along the hillside. After 600 or 700 meters, one reaches an oak tree in a thick meadow, standing in front of a demolished stone house. This is Nephele’s tree. Here she, who came from the mountaintop, sits and looks down at Ixion, who stands on the ground and next to the abyss.
A bit further above, a rectangular piece of meadow from all sides surrounded by bushes, becomes the setting for the shepherds. With a clear view of the sky, they light their bonfire and the father, contemplating the moon, begins to tell the story of Athamas.
On the edge of the plateau, a rock peeks out of the earth and builds three walls around a subjacent ledge. The two hunters have lit their fire in a gap on the ledge. They lean against the rock and talk. The slain wolf lies sideways from them on a boulder resembling a sacrificial stone.
On the side of the mountain that faces Lucca, the hillside is decked with terraced olive groves. A thick forest rises behind an overgrown house in well-vegetated, grassy knolls. On one of these levels, Hippolochus and Sarpedon rest with their back to the house. Through green-silvery shimmering leaves, the sun hits the tree trunks, the ground, the faces. A moment of summery repose.
Stretching from Pontedera in the direction of Livorno, just between Tripalle and Vicchio, is a narrow road made out of yellow loam and sprinkled with small, sharp stones. Here Oedipus and Tiresias travel towards Thebes. For a time the road leads straight along some fields, later a cypress throws a slender, cutting shadow. It is a dusty, sun-drenched road. For a brief moment, the cart passes through a darkened defile, before it once again passes along the same fields. The camera always stays in the same position. A brief, black piece of filmstrip separates the shots. In these moments, one can only hear the sound of the wooden wheels on stone and the creaking of the cart – an implacably monotonous road.
Piedmont is the landscape of Pavese. Undulating with round, tightly staggered crests decked with vineyards, hazelnut fields and orchards. The larger villages and smaller towns are located in the river valleys of Belbo and Bormida, connected via straight roads that run alongside the rivers. The smaller villages with their churches and taverns reside in the hills. Their connective roads are hard to trace through the hilly scenery. On these roads – brick-build cisterns in which the peasants collect the rainwater for dry season face the mountainside with their tight shafts and arched openings – Nuto and the bastard tell each other about their memories.
When the pastor holds his anti-communist sermon in front of the church of Santo Stefano Belbo one sees the hills on the left side of the frame, the hills in which the fires burned, the hills in which the partisans hid. The bar opposite of the church is now called La luna e i falò. Hung behind the bar next to a newspaper photo of Pavese are drawings by children of the moon and of a falò.
In Santo Stefano, one can buy a postcard of the monument the city has dedicated to Pavese. In front of U-shaped houses, which look like undersized barracks, stands a statue with the head of Pavese on a small patch of green. The patina has crumbled from the metal like blood. The photographer has lit the image so that only parts of the houses are visible. Pavese’s head remains in the dark.
What the film is about (fourthly)
The players in DALLA NUBE ALLA RESISTENZA [From the Clouds to the Resistance] are, with one exception, laypersons. Reading the word through a religious context, the laity is every person that is not part of the clergy; in a scientific context, the layperson claims to be of no special knowledge. In both instances, the layperson is defined as belonging to the people.
(I) A List
Guido Lombardi (Ixion) is a video director based in Rome, Fiorangelo Pucci (Herakles) teaches cinema at the university in Urbino. Gianni Toti (the priest) works as a journalist in Rome, Carmelo Lacorte (Nuto) teaches at the Marxism-Institute in Urbino. Olimpia Carlisi, The Cloud, has been working as an actress for a couple of years, Ennio Lauricella (Teiresias) is a retired French teacher in Rome. Walter Pardini (Oedipus) works as a teacher in Pontedera. Francesco Ragusa Cecco (Lityerses) is a light operator and peasant out of Pisa. Mario di Mattia hails from Alba Fucense in the Abruzzi; just like his role, Cinto, he also helps his father on the farm. Luigi Giordanello (Valino) is a peasant out of Torre Bormida in Piedmont. Gino Felici and Lori Pelosini (Hippolochus and Sarpedon), the two hunters Andrea Bacci and Lori Cavallini as well as Dolando Bernardini and Andrea Filippi (father and son) are workers and employees hailing from Buti at the Mount Serra. Mauro Monni, the bastard, also hails from Buti. He works as a technical employee. Paolo Cinanni, the innkeeper, works in FILEF, an organization based in Rome that takes care of emigrated workers.
Olimpia Carlisi and Ennio Lauricella also starred in OTHON. Olimpia played Camille, the foster-daughter of the emperor Galba, who cannot balance her love with the politics. She is the incarnation of a Rome whose opinion is never asked for, yet everyone proclaims to speak for its well-being. It is she who starts the court intrigue. Carlisi, with that idiosyncratic mix of intimacy and distance, resembled the image a Central European had of Italian women. Ennio Lauricella played the emperor Galba, sitting on a throne behind ruins, from whose perspective the play turns into a comedy. He is the emperor of Rome but his loud, rolling R and his rasping, distinguished French renders him an earnest and stately comedian.
Olimpia Carlisi wears a dress with a light red veil. Her fair skin tone makes her seem almost invisible. The image of a goddess, yet more phantom than person. There is a direct connection between the phantom that seems to unify the hitherto direct, corporeal communication between god and men by reducing the former to the incarnation of a moral system around which the latter structure their existence — the gods are turned into an idolized category — and the construction of fate as the expansion of one’s experiences as in Teiresias’s dialogue. It is the continuation of concepts across history or the model thereof.
Mario di Mattia hails from the place in whose amphitheater most of MOSES UND AARON was shot. His father is a peasant and custodian of the amphitheater, the Romanesque chapel located above it as well as the Etruscan settlement, which is dug up further down.
Constructed in a rectangular pattern, Alba Fucense has a population of around one hundred. All the houses are built in one style and in peculiar contrast to the surrounding landscape, which consists of a fertile plain flat towards the east and Monte Velino, Mount Sinai in MOSES UND AARON, with its height of 2,800 meters in the west. In the ’30s, an earthquake destroyed the village. The Fascists donated a new village to the inhabitants. [a play on the Nazi propaganda film The Führer Gives A City To The Jews]
Mario is now 20 years old. According to the doctors, he suffered from a growth hormone deficiency when he was eleven. There’s a grim determination to Cinto when, once asked what he would do if his father would take away the knife he was gifted by the bastard, he answers that he would kill him. Cinto channels the alienation and suffering experienced through his surroundings into a determination to assert himself. He seems connected to Johanna Fähme, the old woman in the sanatorium in NICHT VERSÖHNT. She alone understands that only violence helps where violence rules. Her reaction to the rise of fascism has condemned her to the sanatorium and now as she faces something as similar to fascism as two peas in a pod, she can only think about the pistol.
Buti is a municipality of around 4,000 to 5,000. At the end of the village begins a steep climb to Monte Serra. Here is a compound called circolo primo maggio which today would surely be called an “alternatives Kulturzentrum” [literally: alternative arts center, which in Germany has a clear leftist, anti-fascists connotation] in Germany. But I can offer nothing which could be opposed. The circolo is open all year round and sets the stage for a permanent Unità fest. Mauro Monni, who operates a bar, which has become one of the meeting points for the twenty-year-olds, with his wife and daughter, is one of the organizers. Everyone hailing from Buti who plays a role in the film also contributes to the festival by either organizing the program or the food, forming theater groups or playing music. In Buti, the share of votes for the PCI sways between 60 and 64 percent.
Paolo Cinanni hails from Calabria. He was unemployed after a serious accident and settled over to Piedmont where he began a new training. In the ’30s one of his English teachers was Pavese, then jobless and without income. Paolo Cinanni fought in Calabria and later as one of the chief organizers in Piedmont as a partisan. He wrote a book about the fights in Calabria, which according to Straub was not even discussed in the Unitá. His cavaliere owns a small piece of land, which he considers to be his roots; a small piece of land which he wants to preserve as a free land for his family, but his family is dead.
The actors have different occupations and hail from different places. The film is about Italy; a country whose society is still agrarian. If Greek mythology are the fables turned history of an agrarian society they do not only belong to the high school teachers, the film connects in its two parts Italy’s present with a collective historiography. This connection is possible by bringing the actors to the texts.
Before the beginning of the shoot, Straub-Huillet spent a year traveling through Italy and rehearsing the texts with the actors. This resulted in notebooks, which read like long poems written in free verse in which the structure of the text as well as the actors’ resistance and identification with them stands as its own score. In the first part, Straub-Huillet splice chapter titles in between the Dialogues. In the beginning of the second part, there is even a long standalone credit sequence. Both name the actors and their role just as silent films used intertitles to introduce new characters.
To make a film means to live a part of one’s life. To inscribe oneself and one’s biography in what others play, act, recite and write.
The people of Buti in the first part play and speak Tuscan dialect. They make the dialogues their own, change the text and show a practical approach to it.
Mauro Monni, the bastard, breathes hard as he walks up the steep street and talks about his work in Genoa and the escape from the fascists. It is the exertion of walking up a mountain and the exertion of unburdening one’s memories.
WHAT IS A SHOT
There is Straub’s ‘legendary ‘perfect technique’ and then there is the technical perfection of the global Hollywood film.
There are many more styles and all of them integral to filmmaking, just as the technique in a Hollywood production is not one of sly finesse. It knows about the pleasure of impressions and those who apply it choose confidently from the large supplies, which only a company can offer. The idea of slickness is the result of a convenience, which has struck film critics through the conception of the auteur and the means of the trade.
It seems that one can only discuss technical perfection through cinematographic jargon.
The Hollywood film, and here we can once again talk about it in terms of its global reproduction or what Godard coined ‘the American cineimperialism’, has as its basic unit the scene, while Straub-Huillet’s work is constructed around the primacy of the shot.
When a cut unconnected to a change of location or change of time emphasizes the characteristic of the light, or changes the sound by adjusting the volume of the background noise, one is prone to regard it as an artistic mistake except in B-films where it holds a strange allure.
In OTHON, the sound resembles the natural sound of the thirties and forties. The sound recordist nixed everything on the spot. There are no soft transitions and the mix remains unchanged in post. The background noise of the film is the consistently present rising and ebbing traffic in Rome. According to Straub, he conceived the film as a “Lichttonmischung”, a mix focused on light and sound.
The final sequence of DALLA NUBE ALLA RESISTENZA was shot over one day. Nuto tells the Bastard how Santina, the youngest daughter of the sovereign under which the bastard served, has died. One watches Nuto during his narration tightly en face. The bastard, who listens, is shown from the front in a kind of American shot. Once one sees a field of trees, which lies in front of them, in their field of vision, and during the end – again in the direction of their gaze – one sees the backside of a hill behind which the sun is setting. During the shooting the sun has wandered from the east to the west and has lit the people, who always stay set in the same spot, from a different angle. Organizing the shoots around the sun also changes the color of the light.
In MOSES UND AARON the duration of the shot, and the points at which a cut occurs, are derived from the structure of the musical text. The cut is like a paragraph in a written text. Only insofar as the musical structure can show how people in a dramatic scene relate to each other, the shot becomes part of the story-board of a scene.
The term story-board sees technical language being turned into theory about the language of cinematography.
A scene has its place and its players’ roles. Once the wide shot establishes the position of each person in a space, each frame of a person becomes peculiarly overdetermined by fragmentally reproducing in each frame the space and the relation of people and things to each other. In the terminology regarding pictures and sequences, this has influenced the terms ‘axis’ and ‘space’.
Two people talk and one sometimes sees one person and sometimes the other. There is space in front of their face and the axis of their gaze has to point to the same edge of the frame. This constitutes a system of images and every individual image is then coerced to fit into the system. It is this system which the so-called great artisans – and this is not meant as a critique – can execute in their sleep.
Because of the primacy of the shot, the films of Straub-Huillet do not ‘work’ like this.
A shot, as they like to say in interviews, equals a thought. The German word Einstellung (shot) has at least two dimensions: a technical one and a moral one.
Straub-Huillet do not give these dimensions to the images as a commentary. For them, images constitute the reason for their existence. It is as hard to describe, as it is easy to see because there is no terminological ballast to the shots as in the images of Herzog, which speculate on a reflex or serve them like Pavlov served his dog meat by ringing the bell.
We say that Straub-Huillet films talk about the relation of texts to places and people. Each single shot speaks to this. The structure of the text conditions how a shot starts and ends, be it a musical, epic, dramatic or lyrical text. The part in the text, which constitutes a shot, is the paragraph. The shot as seen on the screen shows the relation of a person to a place, the analysis of the paragraph.
The final sequence of DALLA NUBE ALLA RESISTENZA once again sees Nuto narrating and the bastard listening. Nuto, sitting closely on the left side of the frame, has remained here throughout, experienced everything and will remain here in the future. At his right side, there is a bush with dark-green leaves, a plant that is used for decorative purposes during official occasions or on a graveyard. He is wearing his glasses and reads aloud from the report about Santina.
Before, in the novel as in the film, there had always been occasions for remembrance. In front of the bar, during walks, out of the situation. Now the novel has constructed a passage, the final and only one, in which Nuto wants to report something to the bastard. Throughout the whole chapter, there is no first-person narration – a switch in the narrative perspective as a literary theorist would say. Something is narrated which, one might propose, in its structure recapitulates the novel as a whole.
The bastard is listening to him, standing. He has said that he might return to America, this land seems to have disappointed him. He stands on the right side of the frame, to his left another tree wearing these graveyard leaves.
When Nuto tells him about Santina’s death, how the commander of the Partisans burned her corpse, one sees a field whose end is confined by a hill. A shot like the cornfield in the fifth dialogue in which Lityerses planned to kill Heracles and burn him on the field for a better harvest but instead Heracles will kill him as the final human sacrifice. Santina, the gorgeous daughter of the sovereign, first the whore of the fascists and then a partisan, before she betrayed them and was in turn executed with her body burned on the field.
The bastard wants to know what happened to Baracca, the commander of the Partisans. He was hanged by the Blackshirts, says Nuto, takes off his glasses and gazes forward. One sees the hill and the sun, which is setting behind it. The music starts.
Ixion’s punishment – this is from the first dialogue of the film – is according to the classic scholars an image of the sun wheel. The sun is the fire, the fire that goes down into the earth and awakens it for a good harvest. The shot of the sunset is parallel to the shot of the field and the report about Santina’s death, parallel like the dark-green graveyard leaves in the shots of Nuto and the bastard are symmetrical, framing the scene. The music plays over the closing credits and then stops. The word Fine appears for the first time in a Straub-Huillet film.
The film was shot in Italian on 35mm and color during the summer of 1978 at the places mentioned above.
The public Italian distributor ITALNOLEGGIO who originally invested a small sum in the production now refuses distribution. The chances to see this film, which was shot for Italy to screen in Italian cinemas, are currently extremely low.
The people in power of the ‘Berlinale’ reject the film for both the competition as well as the other programs for being too extremely different (Donner).
In Cannes, where the organizers found the film to be too risky for the competition, the film will screen in the side program of a side program.
This section is now called Un certain regard, before it was called Les yeux fertiles. Next to everything else, this also constitutes a change of direction.
Florian Weigl is a writer and critic based in Berlin. He can be paid in cat pictures. [Twitter]
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