Death of filmmaker Jean-Marie Straub, author of a committed and demanding work

Author of a demanding work, filmmaker very committed alongside his companion Danièle Huillet, who died in 2006, director Jean-Marie Straub died on the night of November 19 to 20. He was 89 years old.

Creator of a work that is both poetic and demanding, protesting and Marxist filmmaker, Jean-Marie Straub formed an artistic duo for a long time with his partner Danièle Huillet, who died in 2006. The director died on the night of 19 to 20 November at the age of 89, in Switzerland.

Born January 8, 1933 in Metz, Jean-Marie Straub took care of film clubs in his hometown of Metz in the early fifties before going to Paris after completing his university studies in Alsace and Lorraine. It was in 1954 that he met his future wife and collaborator Danièle Huillet there. He wrote a few articles for Radio-Cinéma-Télévision and worked as an assistant trainee on several films including La Tour de Nesle by Abel Gance, Elena et les Hommes by Jean Renoir, Un condemne à mort s’échappé by Robert Bresson and Le Shot of the Shepherd by Jacques Rivette.

In 1958, his refusal to do his military service in Algeria led him to leave France for Amsterdam and then Germany. His flight led him to be sentenced in absentia to one year in prison by the Metz military court. The charges against him were only dropped in 1971.

In 1963, he co-directed his first short, Machorka-Muff. As in his first feature, Not Reconciled or Only Violence Helps or Violence Reigns, Straub and Huillet question the survival of Nazism in post-war Germany. Both films are inspired by the writings of Heinrich Böll. The couple already imposed a particular production system there. They direct, write, edit and produce all of their films themselves in order to maintain their creative independence.

In 1967, Chronicle of Anna-Magdalena Bach imposed them as the main representatives of a new cinema questioning traditional narrative and aesthetic patterns. They film in static shots or long tracking shots texts adapted from literary works or operas.

After the life of Johann Sebastian Bach, Straub and Huillet adapt Pierre Corneille in contemporary Rome with Othon. The voices of the actors are confronted with the noises of the traffic. This art of distancing is also found in their two following films, Lesson in History and Moise and Aaron, where the filmmakers question contemporary society through historical characters or myths. Too early, too late (1980) and Amerika, class relations (1984), their next two feature films, also question the class struggle.

At the end of the 1980s, Straub and Huillet returned to mythology by filming The Death of Empedocle or When the green of the earth will shine again for you (1989) then staging Antigone at the theater before shooting a homonymous film (1994). During the same period, the filmmakers also shot several medium-length films, including Lothringen! (1994) which was released in France as a complement to From Day to Day (1996). In 1998 and 2000, they twice adapted Elio Vittorini with Sicilia! and workers, peasants.

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If their films have never touched the general public and do not rally all the critics, Straub and Huillet are considered by some as major filmmakers of the second half of the 20th century. In 2002, Pedro Costa devoted a documentary to them, Where does your buried smile lie?

In 2002, the couple once again adapted the Italian writer Elio Vittorini with The Return of the Prodigal Son – Humiliated. Always original, they direct a documentary entitled A Visit to the Louvre (2004) whose conversations between Joachim Gasquet and Paul Cézanne are the soundtrack. While continuing to shoot short films, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet directed a new adaptation: These meetings with them (2005), taken from “Dialogues with Leucò” by Cesare Pavese. In 2008, a documentary was released: Itinerary of Jean Bricard.

A tireless committed craftsman, in 2014 he produced his final film, Kommunisten, made up of six parts, five of which were taken from his previous works. In 2017, he was awarded a Golden Leopard for his entire career at the Locarno International Film Festival. “Thank you Jean-Marie for your generosity and your sharp view of the world, which is very topical. We will watch over your heritage and make it shine”wrote Frédéric Maire, director of the Cinémathèque suisse, on the website of his institution.

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