“From the clouds, that is from the invention of the gods by man, to the resistance of the latter against the former as much as to the resistance against Fascism.”
“Dalla nube alla resistenza, based on two works by Cesare Pavese, falls into the category of History Lessons (1972) and Too Early, Too Late (1982) as well. It, too, has two parts – a twentieth-century text and a text regarding the myths of antiquity, each set in the appropriate landscape. Pavese’s The Moon and the Bonfires looks back on the violent deaths of Italian anti-Fascist resistance fighters; Dialogues with Leucò is a series of dialogues between heroes and gods, connecting myth and history and returning to an ambiguous stage in the creation of distinctions, such as that between animal and human, which are fundamental to grammar and language itself. Such a juxtaposition of political engagement with profoundly contemplative issues such as myth, nature, and meaning points to the characters of Empedocles and Antigone in the Hölderlin films.”
“Dalla Nube is composed of two separate parts, one mythological, the other modern, without any apparent relation. The Nube part: six of the twenty seven Dialogues with Leuco (‘Dialoghi con Leucò’), written by Cesare Pavese in 1947. The Resistenza part: extracts of another book by Pavese, The Moon and the Bonfires (‘La luna e i falo’), published in 1950, a few months before his suicide. This last part is not a surprise: every Straub film is an examination – archeological, geological, ethnographic, military as well – of a situation in which men have resisted. To Nietzsche’s claim that ‘the only being known to us is being that represents itself’, the Straubs would respond: only those who resist exist for sure. Resist nature, language, time, texts, gods, God, chiefs, Nazis. Mother and father. This is how the shot, the basic atom of Straubian cinema, is the product, the ‘reste’ (remainder), or rather the ‘restance’ (remaining) of a triple resistance: texts resisting bodies, places resisting texts, bodies resisting places. One has to add a fourth: the public resisting shots ‘designed’ like that, stubborn resistance of cinema’s public to something intractable, something which renounces it as a public.”
Jean-Marie Straub: At the time we shot Dalla nube alla resistenza, we had 25 million lira, the Tavianis, who were shooting Chaos, had 600 million. There’s the difference in how we earn our living. Then, we are punished because we make true European films. I remember a meeting with a representative from CNC for Dalla nube alla resistenza. I outlined the project for him, shot in Italian in the birthplace of Pavese, but with French technicians. He said to me, ‘Mr. Straub, I cannot stop you from filing for the avance sur recettes, but I will not send it to the committee’. ‘Why?’. ‘Because what you want to do is a savage film’. ‘What’s that?’. ‘You must understand that the French cinema is in a crisis. If you shot it in French, it would be different…’. But Pavese wrote in Italian! I believe in the weight of words, that’s how we live.
Danièle Huillet: He finished by proposing that we shoot in Corsica, in the Corsican dialect, with French actors!
Straub and Huillet in conversation with Emmanuel Burdeau and Jean-Michel Frodon4
“I would say that the film that is the turning point is From the Clouds to the Resistance, a film from 1978 adapted from Pavese, that has two parts: first, six of the Dialogues with Leucò, then very selective extracts from The Moon and the Bonfires. I believe that this meeting of the Straubs with these Dialogues is very important. Pavese wrote Dialogues with Leucò early in the post-war period, at the time when he rejoined the Communist Party and when he was writing a novel to announce this conversation, The Comrade. But, while rejoining the Communist Party, Pavese took a considerable theoretical distance not only vis-a-vis contemporary political and social events, but also from the technical tradition of Marxism. Thus, what he wanted to do with Dialogues with Leucò was to root what had been fascism, war, resistance, and communism in a much older drama of the relationship between culture and nature. This is why he went and looked at ancient mythology and, basically, what he recreated is a drama about the origins of tragedy: we can think of the original proceedings of Greek tragedy with the quarrel between the old and new gods, the establishment of justice, the passage from a maternal time – of the time of mother earth, the titans, the monsters – to the order of the Olympian gods. In 1978, the Straubs directed these six Dialogues with Leucò on the theme of the creation of a universe of justice and, consequently, on the time of the differentiation of gods and men, on the end of the religion of the earth. But, while they directed these dialogues, I believe that they placed themselves in a drama that marks their political aesthetic more and more. At this moment, the relationship of bodies to space becomes more and more this relationship to an inhuman nature, an inhuman nature that is the basis of another idea of culture. We move to a peasant or ecological communism, opposed to the communism of Soviet engineers. After all, this nature has no pastoral qualities. It is an ancient nature: a play of forces, a play of conflicting elements. One thus finds in their work what one could call an ancient philosophy of the elements of nature – water, earth, fire, air – and their conflict. To put it differently, with this film in 1978, there is a division between the heavy elements – water, earth, elements of heaviness, duration, secretiveness, waiting – and the light, volatile elements – brightness, light, elevation, air and fire. In a sense, Workers, Peasants (2001) is a discussion between men of fire and men of the earth, and everything plays on this war that also takes places in this setting. All the elements intervene all the time. You can think of the roles that water and air, insects, and wind play, the role that fire (meaning the sun) plays. The film is a war of elements that arrives at a reconciliation: the story of the Ricotta, the story of the fire, how to make the fire… The reconciliation of the elements is conceived as an apotheosis of the community, knowing that, at the same time, nature is also what is there before all arguments, as what is nameless. That’s why I say that for me, at a point, there is in their films a reversal of the dispositif between two communisms and two mise en scènes. In the first period, what was important in their work was the power of words over images – think of Moses and Aron (1975), with Moses as the man of words and Aron the man of images, and the Straubs who, in this conflict, are on Moses’ side – and, this period is followed by a lyrical model where the power of what precedes words affirms itself over words, when something unnameable appears that gives words their meaning, all while imposing on them a form of respect. I have voluntarily opposed these two models in a rather blunt manner here, but I think that this opposition exists.”
- 1. “Dalla nube alla resistenza,” Cinema of the World, May 4, 2012.
- 2. Barton Byg, Landscapes of Resistance: The German Films of Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 18.
- 3. Serge Daney, “A Morals of Perception (About Dalla Nube alla Resistenza by Straub-Huillet),” Diagonal Thoughts, June 18, 2012. Translated by Stoffel Debuysere. Originally published as “Une Morale de la Perception (De la nuée à la résistance de Straub-Huillet)” in La Rampe. Cahier critique 1970-1982 (Paris: Gallimard, 1983).
- 4. Emmanuel Burdeau and Jean-Michel Frodon, “Encounter with Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet. Quei loro incontri,” Lumière, 2011. Translation by Ted Fendt. Originally published in Cahiers du cinéma, nr. 616, October, 2006.
- 5. Jacques Rancière, Philippe Lafosse and the public in conversation about Straub-Huillet after a screening of From the Clouds to the Resistance and Workers, Peasants on February 16, 2004 in Nice. Translated into English by Ted Fendt as “Politics and Aesthetics in the Straubs’ Films,” Mubi Notebook, November 7, 2011.