Sunday, November 9, 2008 at 8pm
Too Early, Too Late
Too Early, Too Late, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, 16mm, 1981, 105 mins
Introduced by Pedro Costa
“In June 1980, the Straubs spent two weeks filming in the French countryside. They were seen in places as improbable as Treogan, Mottreff, Marbeuf and Harville. They were seen prowling close to big cities: Lyon, Rennes. Their idea, which presides over the execution of this opus 12 in their oeuvre (already twenty years of filmmaking!) was to film as they are today a certain number of places mentioned in a letter sent by Engels to the future renegade Kautsky. In this letter (read offscreen by Danièle Huillet), Engels, bolstered with figures, describes the misery of the countryside on the eve of the French Revolution. One suspects that these places have changed. For one thing, they are deserted. The French countryside, Straub says, has a 'science fiction, deserted-planet aspect.' Maybe people live there, but they don't inhabit the locale. The fields, roadways, fences and rows of trees are traces of human activity, but the actors are birds, a few vehicles, a faint murmur, the wind.
“In May 1981, the Straubs are in Egypt and film other landscapes. This time the guide isn't Engels but a more up-to-date Marxist, author of the recent and celebrated Class Struggles in Egypt, Mahmoud Hussein. Again offscreen, the voice of an Arab intellectual speaks in French (but with an accent) about the peasant resistance to the English occupation, up until the 'petit-bourgeois' revolution of Neguib in 1952. Once again, the peasants revolt too early and succeeded too late as far as power is concerned. This obsessive recurrence is the film's 'content.' Like a musical motif, it is established from the outset: 'that the middle-class here as always were too cowardly to support their own interests/that since the Bastille, the plebes had to do all the work.' (Engels)
“The film is thus a diptych. One, France. Two, Egypt. No actors, not even characters, especially not extras. If there is an actor in Too Early, Too Late, it's the landscape. This actor has a text to recite: History (the peasants who resist, the land which remains), of which it is the living witness. The actor performs with a certain amount of talent: the cloud that passes, a breaking loose of birds, a bouquet of trees bent by the wind, a break in the clouds; this is what the landscape's performance consists of. This kind of performing is meteorological. One hasn't seen anything like it for quite some time. Since the silent period, to be precise...
“These scruples are astonishing. They are not fashionable. To shoot a film, especially in the country, means generally to devastate everything, disrupt the lives of people while manufacturing country snapshots, local color, rancid back-to-nature museum pieces. Because the cinema belongs to the city and no one knows exactly what a 'peasant cinema' would be, anchored in the lived experience, the space-time of peasants. It is necessary therefore to see the Straubs, city inhabitants, mainland navigators, as lost. It is necessary to see them in the middle of the field, moistened fingers raised to catch the wind and ears pricked up to hear what it's saying. So the most naked sensations serve as a compass. Everything else, ethics and esthetics, content and form, derives from this.”
- Serge Daney, from “Cinemeteorology," originally published in Libération, February 20-21, 1982. Translated by Jonathan Rosenbaum.
To be preceded by:
6 Bagatelas, Pedro Costa, Jean-Marie Straub, and Danièle Huillet, video, 2001, 16 mins
Tickets - $6, available at door.