DANIÈLE HUILLET Film-maker
Born: 1 May , 1936, in Paris. Died: 9 October, 2006, in the Loire Valley, France, aged 70
DANILE Huillet, was a filmmaker who, in collaboration with her husband, Jean-Marie Straub, created some of the most challenging and intensely debated motion pictures of the modernist era.
The couple's latest film, Ces Rencontres Avec Eux (These Encounters With Them), opened in France this week. In the film, non-professional actors recite from the Italian writer Cesare Pavese's Dialogues With Leuco while standing in a forest. It was presented in competition in September at the Venice Film Festival, where the couple received a special award for "the innovative aspect of the cinematographic language" of their body of work.
Among the best-known films of Straub-Huillet, as the couple was known in critical shorthand, are The Chronicle of Anna-Magdalena Bach (1967), an approach to the life and work of Johann Sebastian Bach as seen through the journals of his wife; and Class Relations, a 1984 film based on Franz Kafka's unfinished novel, America.
As film-makers, Straub and Huillet belonged to the generation that produced the French New Wave, although their work took a radically different direction. Their aesthetic, grounded in the philosophical materialism of Marx and Engels, was one of extreme realism that resisted superfluous embellishments and editing effects. Their work has been extensively analysed and argued about in many books and film journals.
Shooting most often in black-and-white, in extreme long takes either from a fixed camera position or in carefully choreographed tracking shots, the filmmakers tried to be faithful to the landscapes or interiors in which their films were set, presenting them whole, with little editing or distortions of spatial relationships.
The texts they chose were taken from both classical sources (Pierre Corneille for Othon, 1969) and modern ones (Arnold Schoenberg's opera Aaron and Moses, filmed in 1975). Read by a narrator, either on-screen or off, the texts were placed in counterpoint to concrete images, creating a sense of language as a solid, sensual phenomenon itself.
Danile Huillet (pronounced hwee-YAY) was born in Paris in 1936, and attended the Lyce Jules Ferry. She gained a reputation for intellectual independence early. According to one often-cited anecdote, when applying to Idhec, as France's national film school was known in the 1950s, she refused to submit the required entrance essay on the grounds that the film she was asked to analyse, Yves Allgret's Manges, was unworthy of serious consideration.
In 1954, she met and soon married Straub, a kindred spirit from Lorraine. She later joined him in exile in Germany when Straub left France rather than serve in the Algerian war. It was there that the couple made their first short film, Machorka-Muff (1963), and their first feature, Not Reconciled (1965), both based on texts by the novelist Heinrich Bll about the survival of Nazism in post-war German life.
Their next film, The Chronicle of Anna-Magdalena Bach, was their first international success. Shot largely in the actual locations where Bach lived and worked, and featuring the musician Gustav Leonhardt playing period instruments, the film created a moving contrast between the material conditions of Bach's life and the transcendent quality of his music.
In the 1970s, the pair moved to Rome, where they established a famously disordered household filled with the stray cats and dogs that they could not resist taking in. They had no children. Italy quickly became part of their cultural storehouse, and they made their first film based on Pavese's writing, From the Clouds to the Resistance, in 1979.
Famously combative, solidly built and never without a Brechtian cigar, Straub enjoyed playing "bad cop" at festival press conferences to Huillet's softer, more conciliatory personality.
Never willing to abide by the rules of commercial film-making, the couple financed their work through an elaborate network of film and television producers, often underwritten by state film funds. Even as they became institutions on the festival and museum circuit, they projected the brash, provocative aspect of eternal Young Turks, always willing to upset any and all apple carts in the immediate vicinity.
A tribute published in the French newspaper Libration, stated: "Dead, Danile Huillet kills us twice, because her passing probably means that Straub will never film again."
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