It is very likely that even moviegoers who were interested in hearing the news of the Frenchman’s death Jean-Marie Straub (on the 19th, in Rolle, Switzerland, he was 89 years old) do not know his films. The explanation is simple: his filmography, inseparable from his work with his wife Danièle Huillet (1936-2006), never enjoyed the favor of the major distribution circuits, having been heavily penalized for its experimental dimension and, above all, for the obstinate formal research through of a regular and, in a way, obsessive relationship with literary writing.
Furthermore, working almost always with non-professional interpreters, Straub/Huillet films also never had “stars” to help promote them. What is certain is that it is not possible to know the history of cinematographic modernity without, in one way or another, going through the work of the couple.
It is a case to say that the “stars” of his films had very different names than usual. Which? Well then, from the outset Johann Sebastian Bach, through the title that projected them on the international artistic circuits: “A Pequena Crónica de Ana Madalena Bach” (1968), a revisitation of the composer through the memories contained in his wife’s letters — we recall the respective trailer down here. Or, for example, Cesare Pavese, Franz Kafka and Elio Vittorini, revisited, respectively, in “From the Cloud to Resistance” (1979), “America, Class Relations” (1984) and “Sicily” (1999).
What we find in such films are variations on the works that serve as inspiration, in everything and for everything different from the traditional concepts of “adaptation”. For Straub, the convulsions of human history — in particular its dramatic political and ideological cleavages — always involved the primordial value of the word. The rigor of this work can be known through the documentary that Pedro Costa made about them — it’s called “Onde Jaz o Teu Sorriso?” (2001) and can be defined as a follow-up, at once intimate and didactic, to the editing work for “Sicily”.
Bearing in mind the current proliferation of cinema distribution circuits, it is worth formulating a cinephile’s vote: let’s hope that it will be possible to start reviewing (or discovering) the films with which Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet built a fascinating, autonomous and uncompromising, in the multifaceted landscape of modern cinema.