Saturday, January 06, 2007

the long voyage home

I've been carrying images from Straub/Huillet's Quei loro incontri (These Encounters of Theirs, 2006) - some of the their final images - in my head since I saw an excellent dub of the Rai-Tre broadcast of the film last month. That broadcast was unsubtitled so I acquainted myself with Cesare Pavese's text, Dialogues With Leucò, the last five conversations of which the film adapts without much alteration (from what I can tell anyway).

Straub-Huillet have, of course, returned to the same Pavese text after 27 years: the first part of Dalla nube alla resistenza (From the Cloud to the Resistance, 1979) contains six of these brief dialogues between Greek mythological heroes and gods. Quei loro incontri is, at once, one of their most beautiful, most sensual films. We see carefully placed bodies, each with its own prescribed movements and in harmony with nature (the movement of the sun is reflected in their faces), set within the lush green of trees, the brown of the earth, and the blue of the sky. We hear a spectrum of voices - each with its own acoustic parameters of timbre and intonation - rising and falling in volume, as if competing with (/resisting) the ever-present, en concert, sounds of wind on trees and birds in the sky. Voices that announce living beings.

Deleuze: "The act of speech or music is a resistance: it must be economical and sparse, infinitely patient, in order to impose itself on what resists it, but extremely violent in order to be itself a resistance, an act of resistance. ... It is therefore now the visual image, the stratigraphic landscape, which in turn resists the speech-act and opposes it with a silent piling-up. Even letters, books and documents, that which the speech-act has torn itself from, have passed into the landscape, with the monuments, the ossuaries, the lapidary inscriptions. The word resistance has a lot of meaning with the Straubs, and it is now the earth, the tree and the rock which resist the speech act..." (Cinema 2: The Time-Image, pp. 254-255)

Like Dalla nube..., Quei loro incontri exists simultaneously in the past and the present - I think this is made relatively more explicit in the second part of Dalla nube when The Bastard returns to his village after the war and narrates his childhood memories to Nuto. In the latter film (as in many of their works), it is the earth itself which represents the mortal beings' past history of colossal struggle and death (while the horizon is something that is desired, a pursued idea of peace). The text is driven by a very pure form of class relations (between gods and mortals) and Straub and Huillet find striking ways to incorporate this divide into their images, such as in the third act - the only act in the film which features a conversation between a mortal (Hesiod) and a goddess (Mnemosyne) - when the positioning of the actors is in accordance with hierarchy (recalling the first segment from Dalla nube, with Ixion and The Cloud). Even the landscape immediately around them parallels this divide.

The film's soundscape (which is the natural sound of the world we occupy, in this case around the edges of/deep within a forest) is pure Renoir in its three-dimensionality and varies in intensity with every cut that moves closer to the actor. Daisuke Akasaka, in his recent write-up on the film, even notices a difference in the sound of the wind according to the direction it's blowing, an occurrence that is perhaps a little clearer on the big screen. Something about the perpetual wind in the trees brings to mind Sternberg's Saga of Anatahan. To say nothing of how these characters remind one of Ford's many literary and/or mythical figures in a landscape, or how the emotional complexity of the architecture of the landscape before the camera recalls Cézanne's paintings, and the final image of the film - a Final Image in so many ways - is Straub/Huillet's Mont Sainte-Victoire, their pursued horizon.


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