* SPECIAL NOTE: Not Reconciled is playing Sunday 11/23 and Wednesday 11/25 as part of the Manny Farber Tribute at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Visit filmlinc.com for more info
Screened November 14 2008 on 16mm at the MoMA Media Study Center, New York NY
Only 50 minutes long but requiring at least two or three viewings to grasp, the debut feature of cinema’s most dynamic husband and wife directing duo is quite possibly the most daunting and demanding work of the 60s New Wave. Adapting a novel by Nobel laureate and post-war German critic Heinrich Boll, Straub and Huillet radically reinvent conventional expository devices such as voiceover narration and scene transitions, transmogrifying D.W. Griffith’s innovations with cinematic time (cf. Intolerance) to reflect a frightening state of national and political shell-shock. Upon initial viewings, half the time one doesn’t know whether a scene is happening in the contemporary West Germany of the 1960s, the 1930s Third Reich, or the First World War. This disorientation reflects the haunted mental state of a family comprised of three generations of political outsiders, perpetually living under traumas suffered by their nation’s history that those around them are eager to repress. What keeps this film from being dismissed as a pretentious high-brow aesthetic exercise is the sinuous mystery to its rhythms, made clean by a near-merciless precision to the film’s Bresson-inspired cutting and framing schemes, and weighted with the emotional accumulation of oblique expressions of rage and cruelty, Teutonic blue notes played with cool ferocity. This is a puzzle film with jigs as sharp as shark’s teeth, now as much as ever.
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The subtitle of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s first feature, from 1965, “Only Violence Helps Where Violence Reigns,” suggests the fierce political program evoked by their rigorous aesthetic. The pretext of the film, set in Cologne, is Heinrich Böll’s novel “Billiards at Half Past Nine,” which they strip down to a handful of stark events and film with a confrontational angularity akin to Bartók’s music that adorns the soundtrack. The subtlest of cues accompany the story’s complex flashbacks. The middle-aged Robert Fähmel tells a young hotel bellhop of persecutions under the Third Reich; his elderly father, Heinrich, an architect famed for a local abbey, recalls the militarism of the First World War, when his wife, Johanna, incurred trouble for insulting the Kaiser. A third-generation Fähmel is considering architecture, just as the exiled brother of Robert’s late wife, returns, only to be met by their former torturer, now a West German official taking part in a celebratory parade of war veterans. Straub and Huillet make the layers of history live in the present tense, which they judge severely. The tamped-down acting and the spare, tense visual rhetoric suggest a state of moral crisis as well as the response—as much in style as in substance—that it demands.
– Richard Brody, The New Yorker
The least that can be said to explain why the films of Straub and Huillet are so important is that they embody the most rigorous practice in cinema of playing fair with one’s materials: texts, actors, elements, landscapes, buildings. That means: letting the living live, letting what once lived, speak. What once lived: what was once intended, what was once thought within a network of links with its own time and with the more or less distant past (the connections from Brecht to Caesar, from Hölderlin to Empedocles, from Pavese to the ancient gods of Italy, from Schönberg to Moses and Aaron). Letting what once lived, speak and appear, somewhere. People and things may not be in their place, but they are in a place…
In Not Reconciled (1965), it’s already clear, this attitude, or discipline, that makes it happen that the filmmakers place themselves in front of people, in the midst of reality, in such a way that people and reality do not give up to the camera. The people are always looking out of the frame, they are always escaping, out of allegiance to this system that Straub-Huillet’s Brechtian cinema constructs and displays, whereby the actor remains in his/her own skin even while adopting the garb of another: without claiming, falsely, to be at home in this garb. (No pretended intimacy in their films, no false traffic with the inner life of people; what is discussed is public life, politics, work, genetic life, the activity of peoples and races….) What Straub-Huillet add to Brecht is cinema: the route through the real or the escape of the real through the real, at the moment of being filmed.
– Chris Fujiwara, FIPRESCI Undercurrent
Evoking such intricately interwoven allusive images as religious rigidity, blind faith, false idolatry, and passive complicity, the seemingly perfunctory episode distills the essence of Heinrich Böll’s, radical, anti-militarist postwar novel, Billiards at Half-Past Nine, an indicting examination of the collective psyche of the German people that contributed to rise of Nazism and its insidious perpetuation in contemporary society. Unfolding in disorientingly elliptical vignettes that eschew dramatic action in favor of oppressively distended temp morts, autonomic ritual (most notably, in the recurring image of Robert Fähmel (Henning Harmssen) playing a lone game of billiards), and decontextualized, uninflected monologues (that recall the dedramatized, pensive recitation of Robert Bresson’s equally spare and austere cinema), the film chronicles three generations of architects and their personal association with – and ancestral legacy through – St. Anthony’s Abbey and, in the process, presents an incisive and relevant portrait of a traumatized nation’s culturally fostered (but publicly unarticulated) xenophobia, suppressed memory, deliberate inaction, and tacit support for (and therefore, condoned harboring of) war criminals into positions of power, authority, and influence in postwar Germany. Filming in stark black and white, Straub and Huillet also set the somber atmosphere of figurative, unreconciled ghosts of souls (and histories) passed through the opening image of otherworldly forms and shadows cast by a bleak and desolate winter forest. Straub and Huillet further underscore the film’s recurring theme of alienation and distance through non-confronting dialogue, incongruous narration, and isolated and occluded character framing. Similarly, the film’s asequential structure conflates past and present in order to create a pervasive sentimental inertia – a metaphoric existential vicious circle for a national soul that is still haunted by its own past, even as it continues to steadfastly cling to its self-destructive behaviors – obfuscating moral complicity through delusive self-denial and perverted, hollow rituals. It is this inextricable sense of moribund transcendence that is captured in the Fähmel family’s intertwined destinies with the wartime-sabotaged cathedral, the tragic and tortuous course of human history that reveals only a shell of irredeemably lost grandeur and inevitable fall from grace.
– Acquarello, Strictly Film School
If I were asked to name the most difficult great filmmaker(s) in the world, the team of the late Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub would undoubtedly top my list. (In fact, that might make in interesting exercise, so you can probably expect to see such a list posted here soon.) At the beginning of their shared career, the husband-wife team were making severe, austere black-and-white films with dark, brooding political content. The best of these early films, Not Reconciled or Only Violence Helps Where Violence Rules, boiled down Heinrich Böll’s novel Billiards at Half Past Nine, to a jagged 45 minutes in which the book’s multiple plot lines were jumbled and its chronology obliterated. It is a stunning film that rewards multiple viewings. It is a film that requires multiple viewings.
– George Robinson, Cine-Journal
A “lacunary” film is what Straub called Not Reconciled and what every film by him and Huillet may be called, a film in which the gaps cannot be filled in to make a world, the parts missing cannot be put in place to make a whole. It is not that we are called upon to complete the work ourselves: how can we, if its makers cannot? It is that the gaps, the parts missing, are to become ours as well as the work’s: the work of putting the parts together, the parts without a whole, is one in which we must take part…
In Not Reconciled the remnants of the past, of the various pasts, are not clearly placed in those pasts; with disconcerting abruptness the film shifts between diffferent periods, between different actors playing the same characters in different periods, and so the things from the past are not experienced as past but as things with the same claim as anything else to belonging in the present. Precisely the point: the German past is not over and done with, it continues in the present. But in Not Reconciled things do not exist in a world of the present either. They are things without a world, things the German people must make into a world. Easy to make them into a false world, but this the film will not do: it breaks [novelist Heinrich] Boll’s narrative into pieces that are purposely difficult to put together.”Tell what, boy?” asks Robert Fahmel in the abrupt opening line: tell what about his experience under the Nazis, when he was about as old as the adolescent boy he is addressing? Tell what about the German past, in what connection to the concerns of the present? asks the film tacitly throughout; the question is built into the fragmentary, dislocated arrangement of the largely retrospective narrative. Out of a long story spanning half a century we get a tangled agglomerate of fragments, bits and pieces of the past recounted by the characters or reenacted in flashbacks to Nazi and to Kaiser Germany, with no connections made, no cohesion established among the different pieces that can be readily grasped. Hence the missing pieces carry as much weight as the things included, the weight, the feel, of all in the past that has been forgotten or repressed and yet continues to bear upon the present.
– Gilberto Perez, from “History Lessons,” in The Material Ghost, JHU Press, 2000. Pages 324, 325
Straub’s oblique approach to the problem of Germany’s Nazi past resulted in NOT RECONCILED, which was adapted from Heinrich Böll’s novel, Billiards at Half-Past Nine. However, the film’s source is not a particularly helpful place to commence a critical analysis (“pace” Richard Roud) since the best it can do is attempt to unravel a singularly difficult cinematic experience. Straub, indeed, would prefer us to forget the novelistic source:
“I believe one can’t make a film of any book—because one films something about a book or with a book, but never of a book—one films always from one’s own experience. A film lives and exists only when it is based on the experiences of the so-called director.”
Straub takes as his starting point the principle that film is “a perceptual present.” There is, in our experience of watching a film, no past tense. He then transfers this idea to the narrative organization, eliding all the connectives that were present in Böll’s novels, thereby formally underling the historical principle that present and past are indivisible. Again we note Straub’s proximity to Marxist theory. Marx noted, “Not only the result, but the road to it also, is a part of the truth.” Straub’s maieutic endeavor in NOT RECONCILED, to objectify the latent tendencies of the German nation, is predicated on this principle. The process of our struggle to come to terms with the film runs parallel with the protagonist Robert Fahmel’s attempt to come to terms with his past.
As he had earlier done with MACHORKA-MUFF, Straub attacked his subject from an oblique angle:
In its individual elements, the film is congruent with the characteristic constituents of Straub’s style: the documentary mode, the flat monotony of the actors’ dialogue, an ascetic camera style. Eliding Böll’s transitional statements reinforces the generalized image of the nation, rather than the intimacies of family relations. Everything in the film pushes beyond the boundaries of the personal to the national. One might even say that impersonality is a central motif. Like Machorka-Muff’s solitariness (eating alone, walking alone) the characters in NOT RECONCILED are alone, set in a hostilely impersonal environment. One shot that clinches this mood of pessimism is a 360-degree panning shot around a suburban desert. It culminates on a young man standing at a door; a child informs him that the person he seeks has never been there. Straub consistently uses empty spaces—often to create a sense that it is a space that has been vacated by those that don’t “fit in”—like Robert’s mother, who has been committed to an insane asylum because she called the Kaiser a “fool.” Straub seems to suggest that the barren nature of the environment is perhaps due to the fact that Nazism’s eliminative principles have rendered it spiritually sterile.
– Martin Walsh, “Jean-Marie Straub,” published in Jump Cut no. 4, 1974
“Many of [Straub-Huillet’s] films address themselves to the problem of the text and its performance, to the fact that in general text and performance are fused within a film. Nearly all the Straub-Huillet films are in some way concerned with establishing a distance between the cinematic presentation of a text and that text, and this is the source of much of their success and interest. In films like Machorka Muff and Nicht Versohnt this is already the case, though less explicitly than later. Not Reconciled is an extremely difficult film to cope with as a film in the sense of the standard cinema, because it does not have in itself the power to substitute for and therefore abolish the text of which it is an adaptation. You cannot understand the story of Not Reconciled in the ordinary way you understand the story of a film, unless you know the novel on which it is based, with the result that there is a tension with the film between the Heinrich Boll novel which is being adapted and the particular filmic presentation. Of course the same thing is much more explicit in films such as Othon and History Lessons, where a text is recited or presented in a relation which completely contradicts any possibility of that text assuming its simple fictional place. This is one way to reestablish that separation between a text and a film performance which is a presentation of that text, which Brecht insisted was so important a part of the epic theater.
– Ron Burnett, from Explorations in Film Theory, Published by Indiana University Press, 1991. Page 198.
The placement of the fictional narrative of the novel within a context of documentary elements and the freedom created by the filmmakers’ formal decisions are important aspects of Not Reconciled as well as of the films to be examined in following chapters. For Straub/Huillet, documentary is fundamental to all film art. Even the fictional drama contained In Not Reconciled is documentary on one level: a documentary of its (re)enactment, its quotation from the novel. Just as the words of the novel do not openly express emotion, neither does the style with which Straub/Huillet present them. The texts are offered as documents, facts—placed in a context but not interpreted.
Composition, editing, camera movement, and motion within the shots all have an effect on the narrative and the emotions it can stimulate. Critics have often noted Straub/Huillet’s preference for diagonals, for instance, but have underestimated the aesthetic and thematic significance of the contrast with more symmetrical composition. Scenes in Not Reconciled involving the characters’ inability to reconcile past and present are most often shot in diagonals. In addition to making a simple set “vibrate with life,” Straub/Huillet’s diagonal shots keep the viewer from relaxing at the point of a perspective triangle in relation to the screen. In this way they are able to vary the sense of narrative space inherent in all three-dimensional pictorial representations. Not only is the viewer not at rest as the subject for whom the composition is created but the composition itself, devoid of a vanishing point or balanced perspective focus, contains lines of visual interest that come back into the frame rather than seek to escape to another triangular point opposite the viewer on the other side. The restlessness thus created makes it possible for the viewer to feel a new sensation when, for a good thematic reason, balanced perspective returns…
– Barton Byg, Landscapes of Resistance: The German Films of Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub. University of California Press. Pages 113, 115.
For Thomas Elsaesser, Not Reconciled can be identified even as a “terrorist film” because it offers a violent “solution” to the failures of effective de-Nazification: the female protagonist of Not Reconciled attempts to shoot one of the official politicians, a former Nazi who is now the Minister for Rearmament… Not Reconciled… seems to anticipate the later forms of terrorism aimed at radically protesting the reconstruction and remilitarization of the German nation-state after the war.
– Robert Stam, Alessandra Raengo, Literature and Film: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Film Adaptation. Published by Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Page 150.
About Jean-Marie Strab and Danielle Huillet
There are more important things to write about than films. This alone is a good reason for writing about films by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet. In their art they have taken to heart Kafka’s advice: “In the battle between yourself and the world, second the world.” In films that are simple in their visual construction, restrained in their camera movement, and precise in their editing, there are always brief points at which the reality of the world outside the film explodes with a violent, utopian force. In Not Reconciled , for instance, a tragic love affair is summed up in a single two-second shot of a young woman turning her head as she says, “They’re going to kill you.” An old woman shoots a Nazi sympathizer at the end of the same film, and another avenging woman shoots a gangster at the end of The Bridegroom, the Comedienne, and the Pimp , yet in each case the camera looks away. The “action” is always elsewhere, spilling out of the film. And in most Straub/Huillet films, sound separates itself from the image for the first time at the end of the final reel, impelling us out of the dream of the cinema and into the world again: Bach’s organ music, the air horn of an Amtrak train, the thunder of an approaching storm, the Carabinieri’s helicopter.
When one begins to think about a Straub/Huillet film, one inevitably confronts subjects outside the film itself—questions of reality and history, of the “look of the world” that has become so vulnerable. since the political changes in Europe in the 1990s raise issues of the role of Germany as a world power and the future of a leftist cultural critique, the films of Straub/Huillet become all the more pertinent. Although most of their films are “German,” Huillet and Straub are not. They moved to Germany from France at the end of the 1950s, then to Rome, where they have lived since 1969. Their vantage point as outsiders has allowed them to engage with German culture with a combination of critical distance and affection inaccessible to most German artists.
– Barton Byg, Landscapes of Resistance: The German Films of Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub. University of California Press. Pages 1-2.
The films of Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet (Straub-Huillet) draw on post-structuralist, political modernist and Brechtian repudiations of illusionism and emotional identification in order to depict an often alienated and corrupt political context. Films such as [Not Reconciled and Chronical of Anna Magdalena Bach] also employ the Brechtian technique of affording the elements of sound, image, language and acting a degree of autonomy from each other. However, the films of Straub-Huillet differ from the plays of Brecht in the extent to which they eliminate unessential elements from the diegesis. The result is an austere and ascetic style of film-making, from which all expressive emotion is purged. This kind of ‘materialist’ cinema is indebted to Althusserian post-structuralism, and predates the Althusserian inspired cinema and film theory which developed in France after 1968.
Straub-Huillet adopted this minimalist style of film-making out of a determination to create a form of cinematic practice which would be radically different from both the emotion-saturated cinema of the national socialist period, and the normative manouevres of the classical Hollywood film. Consequently, and in accordance with the political modernist tenets that the language of dominant cinema reinforces bourgeois ideology, and that early film language proferred a more authentic articulation of popular and working-class experience, Straub-Huillet sought to echo the greater narrative and visual simplicity of early cinema. In addition to this quest for a more authentic simplicity of style, Straub-Huillet also attempted to emulate the ability of early cinema to express symbolic meaning. This concern for the poetic, symbolic power of the image tempers the austere minimalism in the films of Straub-Huillet, and gives them what could be described as an almost transcendent quality.
– Ian Aitken, from European Film Theory and Cinema, Published by Indiana University Press, 2001. Pages 143-144.
“We want people to lose themselves in our films”, the Straubs told me. “All this talk about ‘distanciation’ is bullshit.”
– Tag Gallagher, from “Lacrimae Rerum Materialized” his amazing, thoroughly illustrated appreciation of Straub-Huillet’s filmmaking. Particularly good is the passage that discusses framing and movement in The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach. Published in Senses of Cinema.
For more than 30 years, Danielle Huillet, who has died aged 70, and her husband, Jean Marie Straub, worked as an indivisible entity, directing, writing and editing some of the most personal, rigorous, challenging and ultimately rewarding films in cinema history. Their films resembled no others. Now, with Huillet’s death, we will probably not see anything like them again.
Straub and Huillet were faithful to each other, to their audiences and to their art, never compromising. Together they reinvented cinema, not only in style – the voiceovers, the unartificial performances, the treatment of texts, the use of extremely long takes, either with a fixed camera or in complex tracking shots – but in the way they made thought visible. As Marxist dialecticians, they created severe cinematic critiques of capitalism in a manner that paralleled the works of Bertolt Brecht in the theatre.
Although it is almost impossible to indicate which one of the couple did what on any of their films, it is likely that Huillet did most of the editing. As seen in the 2003 television documentary by Pedro Costa, Huillet is trying to cut Sicilia (1998), based on Elio Vittorini’s 1939 novel, while Straub keeps pacing up and down in the corridor, smoking cigars, and occasionally interrupting his wife to make a comment, only to disappear again. She was the calmer of the two, Straub’s rock to cling to. She was also much the more practical, handling any money matters and dealing with distributors and festival directors.
She was born on May Day in Paris, and met Straub (pronounced Strobe), who came from Alsace, in 1954 at the Lycée Voltaire in Paris during preparatory courses for a competition to enter Idhec (Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques). Huillet immediately showed her independent spirit when she refused to analyse Yves Allégret’s Manéges for the entrance exam because she felt the film unworthy.
In the early 1960s, Straub, in order to escape having to serve in Algeria, went with Huillet to live in Munich. There they made Not Reconciled (1965), their first feature. Taking an episode from Heinrich Böll’s radical, anti-militarist postwar novel, Billiards at Half-Past Nine, it is an elliptical examination, in stark black and white, of the collective psyche of the German people that led to the rise of Nazism and its insidious existence in contemporary Germany. It not only launched Straub-Huillet (as they became to be known), but was a landmark film of the decade…
People who dealt with the Straubs often spoke of how they were the most stimulating couple, but also the most exasperating. This was probably due to their refusal to compromise on any issue. For example, when their meditative documentary, Une Visite au Louvre (2004), was shown at the London Film Festival, they not only insisted that there should be no English subtitles nor earphone commentary, but that there should not be any synopsis of the film given in the catalogue or flyers.
They courted controversy right until the end, when their latest film, Ces Rencontres avec Eux (These Encounters of Theirs), based on Pavese, was shown in competition at this year’s Venice film festival. Explaining their non-attendance at the festival, they sent a message that said they would be “unable to be festive at a festival where there are so many public and private police looking for a terrorist … but so long as there’s American imperialistic capitalism, there’ll never be enough terrorists in the world.” Nevertheless, the jury gave them a special prize “for invention of cinematic language in the ensemble of their work”. They replied that it was “too late for their lives, but too early for their deaths”.
– Obituary of Daniele Huillet for The Guardian, October 12 2006
Another obituary by Dave Kehr for the New York Times
The films of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet are best understood in the context of contemporary developments in radical, materialist cinema. They offer what many people see as a genuine alternative to both dominant narrative cinema and conventional art movies. Their work is formally austere and demands attentive, intellectual participation from audiences. However, it must be acknowledged that many people find their films nearly impenetrable and absolutely boring. This is explained in part by the fact that the films do not rely on standard narrative construction or conventional characters. While the films of Straub and Huillet are by no means “abstract” it is nearly impossible to (re)construct a unified, imaginary, referential “world” through them.
In a sense their work might be explained in terms of strategies of displeasure, a wilful refusal to captivate audiences with a coherent fictional world. Instead they promote a distanced, intellectual interaction between viewer and film. Because of this insistence on critical distance, audiences must work with the film in a dialectical process of meaning construction. (In fact, Straub is notoriously critical of “lazy” viewers who are unwilling to engage in this activity.)
Straub and Huillet’s films directly address the nature of cinematic signification and its political implications. This includes breaking away from conventional assumptions and practices of dominant narrative cinema. Their films exploit all channels of the medium—music, sounds, words, and images—as equivalent carriers of meaning, rather than privileging the “visual” or relegating music and sound effects to the task of support material. Thus, there are times when extremely long, static shots accompany lengthy, complex verbal passages (a singularly “uncinematic” practice according to conventional canons of film aesthetics). Sequences may be developed along the lines of montage construction, juxtaposing graphic material, verbal material, and moving images.
Straub and Huillet will probably never be as well known to cineastes as fellow New German filmmakers Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Volker Schlondorff, Werner Herzog, or Wim Wenders. But their minimalist films remain important contributions to the New German cinema, and they have been a meaningful voice for the art crowd in Germany. As with all gifted and dedicated film artists whose works are unconventionally structured, their cinematic output remains worthy of study by serious film students and equally worthy of viewing by discerning audiences.
—M.B. White, updated by Rob Edelman, Film Reference.com
On the set, [Danièle Huillet] will have been, not exclusively, but more than Straub, the one who directed with sound — he assuming more what we will call for convenience the direction of actors. The sound of voices, that of the wind if there is wind, that of cars if there are any, in that place and at that moment which are those of the filming, are the firmest imprint of the real world as it is, there where cinema is made. Near to and far from this labor of sound: the work, this time entirely assumed by Danièle Huillet, of the dialogues in their diverse languages. The Straubs filmed in German, in French, in Italian: Danièle Huillet knew all the nuances and requirements of these three languages. She will also have, well beyond “translation for subtitles,” worked to approach as well as possible the presence of words of another language inscribed at the bottom of images in which a certain language is spoken. And who else, in the history of world cinema, has done such a work, which is first respect for the languages that humans speak, respect for the voices of actors, for the meanings of words, and for the identify of spectators? The answer is simple: no one. A clear line links this relation to words, to their arrangement and their enunciation, to the “operational” role played by Danièle Huillet at the editing table. Its process is known, at least as Pedro Costa recorded it in Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie? (2001), on the editing of Sicilia! (1998) — neither she nor he ever made it known that what was seen of it was different from their practice before or after. Straub, his voice ample, his body heavy, digresses widely, even reduced to an editing room; immobile at the table, Danièle H. cuts, measures, specifies. And argues there, holding her own. Of course the result is theirs, the division of labor also is theirs, and in the service of no one, it’s not economic or even intellectual; it’s a matter of sensibility. For at the end of what it will have been possible to say, with prudence, of what la Huillet did in the cinema Straub-Huillet, it’s necessary to return, and with what sadness, to the ineffable unity of what, on the screens, was born from this companionship…. What could be seen of the Straubs’ life — the films, the affirmed choices of existence, in the Roman suburbs or in the 18th arrondissement in Paris — will have been its translation, uncompromising. Let’s add one more adjective: generous, immensely generous. With her time, with her work, with her energy, with her listening, with her knowledge. What Jean-Luc Godard called one day an art of living, and that made films.
– Editors, Cahiers du cinema, cited at Redcat
For what makes Straub an inherently political filmmaker is not his choice of subject matter, but his approach to that subject matter, his respect for the integrity of his materials. The search for truth is at the root of all his films. This truth can only rise out of documentarism, a documentarism that reflects on the degree of its truth: this for Straub is the root of political thinking:
“The revolution is like God’s grace, it has to be made anew each day, it becomes new every day, a revolution is not made once and for all. And it’s exactly like that in daily life. There is no division between politics and life, art and politics. I think one has no other choice, if one is making films that can stand on their own feet, they must become documentary, or in any case they must have documentary roots. Everything must be correct, and only from then on can one rise above, reach higher.”
– Martin Walsh, “Jean-Marie Straub,” published in Jump Cut no. 4, 1974
Joel Rogers interviews Straub and Huillet upon the release of Moses and Aaron, Jump Cut, 1976
About Heinrich Boll
Straub and Huillet were not the only filmmakers who turned to the work of Heinrich Boll… and it is certainly not a coincidence that writer and essayist Boll became such a decisive public figure in the intellectual life of Germany’s culture after 1945. Born in 1917 in Cologne, Boll lived through the Second World War as a common soldier who could assume the role of moral consciousness in postwar Germany. Unlike other writers of his generation, such as Martin Walser or Siegfried Lenz, Boll never bracketed the fascist past from his own writing, but established a clear connection between German guilt and German literature. The authenticity of Boll’s novels, in other words, were derived from their direct engagement with issues otherwise glossed over in the material blooming of the economic miracle. After all, postwar German society granted affluence for everybody on the basis of letting the past be the past. But even though Boll identified with the common German soldier as just another victim of Nazism, he displayed the utmost honesty and self-criticism in negotiating his historical guilt. As such, Boll was recognized not only as a “decent man” but also as the “most important witness of his time” (Marcel Reich-Ranicky). His literature is commonly characterized as simple, black and white, and rather didactic, depicting a polarized, not very complicated world through moral exempla. Throughout his life he was deeply devoted to Catholicism, but at the same time he relentlessly pointed to the shortcomings of the Catholic Church which he left in protest in 1976. When Boll died in 1985, his books had sold 31 million copies and had been translated into 45 languages. Although he incarnated the image of the “good German” outside his own country, his patriotic “public relations” work did not always meet with gratitude.
– Robert Stam, Alessandra Raengo, Literature and Film: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Film Adaptation. Published by Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Page 150.