Academic journal article German Quarterly

Landscapes of Resistance. The German Films of Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Landscapes of Resistance. The German Films of Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub

Article excerpt

Byg, Barton. Landscapes of Resistance. The German Films of Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub. Berkeley: U of California P, 1995. 303 pp., 44 b/w photos, 3 illus., $19.95 paperback.

Hardly anybody in today's international independent-film scene is so intransigent and retroverse as the longtime filmmaker couple Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub. Due to their relentlessly difficult film style, which demands a deciphering intellect and does not supply thrill-oriented gratification, public reception of them is almost nonexistent. Even among cineasts their films have a rather mixed resonance. They are viewed as either stiff, deadly boring, and amateurish or as ingenious and totally misunderstood. The assessment of Straub/ Huillet's work by Barton Byg is therefore a highly welcome retrospective of an ongoing and still very active, if little viewed and reviewed film production. The approximately 150 publications listed in Byg's index indicate that Straub and Huillet's work amounts to not more than narrowly focused article interpretations, feuilletonistic reviews or interviews. There exist only one or two in depth book-length studies on Straub/Huillet, written decades ago.

Byg's book therefore, originally his dissertation, is truly a work of devotion to bring these rather neglected filmmakers to the fore. The study is situated in a myriad of contextualizations and explications reaching from Brecht, Benjamin, and Adorno to contemporary film theory and social-historical film criticism. One does at times get a bit lost in the overload of heterogeneous information. Several chapters of the book were already published elsewhere and they stress at times extraneous aspects that detract to a degree from the inner core of the study. The overall conception of the book, therefore, should have concentrated on a more comprehensive work biography and not focused exclusively on the directors' German film production. Nonetheless, the study delivers the most respectable, detailed work assessment on the subject to date.

More focus should have been given to the profiling of the female of this cinematic team. Byg's attention to Daniele Huillet does not really capture her contributions. In a too short section of the first chapter titled "Straub/ Huillet's Authorship" he addresses their collaboration. Huillet is described as disinterested in a feminist or gender specific stance and highly reticent in divulging biographical information. While Byg laments the fact that she is totally ignored by film criticism he does not set out to correct this demise (12).

Byg correctly sees the need to study the gender issues and the separate work methods involved, but defers them to others for follow-up. Assessing her role more fully would have filled a long-neglected void and would have strengthened the book's overall intent.

In the first part of the book, Byg sets out to explain that Straub and Huillet adhere to a strict film practice of reduction and simplification of form. Both filmmakers claim to be radical critics of the culture industry and thus adhere to the high ethics of cinematic frugality and essentials. They both follow the Brechtian tradition of working extremely closely with the actors, effecting, for example, heightened expression through lay actors not familiar even with the foreign language of the film text. Byg also delineates very poignantly and clearly Straub/Huillet's complex strategy of creating visual pleasure through an intense concentration on the cinematic constituents of light, sound and motion in juxtapositions with landscape and poetic text. As such, Byg very effectively analyzes the meticulous scripting and preparations underlying all films of Straub/ Huillet and he gives an excellent understanding of their film language and film ethics.

Much of the filmmakers' misunderstood reception probably stems from their choice of filmic style. Byg explains that it relies extensively on highly photographic camera work. …

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