• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.


    Name:
    Matt Page

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    U.K.










    Sunday, September 26, 2021

    Dalla nube alla resistenza (1978)
    From the Cloud to the Resistance

    As part of exploring the context of Moses und Aron (1974) I am exploring Huillet and Straub's other films including this one.

    Compared to most of Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub's major works, Dalla nube alla resistenza (From the Cloud to the Resistance, 1992) has had relatively little attention (in English at least). It's barely mentioned in the books of Roud, Byg, Turquety and Busch/Hering, and while, of course Claudi Pummer covers it in Fendt's books, there are also few documents relating to it in the rest of the work, nor in Shafto's Writings.

    Structure-wise the film divides into two halves, The Cloud adapts six segments from Cesare Pavese's novel "Dialogues with Leucò" (1947). The Resistance abridges another of author's novels "The Moon and the Bonfires" (1950). Whereas the first half neatly divides into six, with each section getting its own introductory intertitle and each starting afresh in terms of characters and setting, the second half is more of a single unit with the scenes and characters arranged a little more conventionally (although that is hardly a description that suits Straub and Huillet's filmic style). Of course the title shouldn't really be read as indicating a joining together of two different films. There's a flow throughout the "Leuco" section as ideas of resistance build.

    Geoffrey Nowell-Smith suggests that "the dialogues are more or less self-explanatory and do not require background knowledge of the obscurer by-ways of Greek Mythology". As someone whose knowledge of Greek mythology is largely limited to cultural osmosis and who doesn't quite have Nowell-Smith's intellect, I would have to disagree. The (English translation of the) novel alone caused Publisher's Weekly to note that "Pavese presumes the reader's fluency in the works of Homer, Hesiod and the Greek tragedians" and while the dialogues and the filming of them is interesting and the speeches are peppered with interesting phrasing, it's not easy to catch the overall drift, even after repeated viewings.

    One of the things that is interesting about the film, however, is how, perhaps more than any of their other works, it draws together the threads of the couple's previous work and joins it to their future output. Nowell-Smith recalls Straub himself comparing the film to Not Reconciled and expands on some of the points of similarity. The Ancient World setting is not the only factor which recalls Othon, History LessonsMoses und Aron and Antigone. The light, landscapes, language and literature of Fortini/Cani also springs to mind and the story of a man returning to his home town after living far away for a long time is thematically similar to Sicilia (1998). Particular shots are strongly reminiscent of Workers, Peasants. or The Death of Empedocles.

    Naturally, there's also a link to the other Straub and Huillet films based on Pavese's work. Like the first part of Dall nube, the pair's 2005 film Quei loro incontri (These Encounters of Theirs) draws on "Dialoghi con Lueco", using its final five dialogues. Following Huillet's death Straub directed four further short films also based on Pavese's work Le genou d'Artemide (Artemis's Knee, 2008); Le Streghe, femmes entre alles (The Witches, Women Among Themselves, 2009); L'inconsolable (The Inconsolable One, 2011) and La Madre (The Mother, 2012), 

    The opening scene features Issione (Ixion) debating with Nephele ("The Cloud") who is not quite in the sky, but up a tree. While she is character to be physically highest above the ground, there's already a sense that already the supposed elevation of the gods is not all it's cracked up to be. Many of the other mythical characters in these opening sections have traditionally been seen as divine to a degree, hence the Cloud of the title reached beyond this initial scene. Next Ippòloco (Hippolochus) and Sarpedonte (Sarpedon) talk in a wooden area. The location and the disruptive framing and editing recall a segment in The Death of Empedocles. By refusing to provide an initial establishing shot showing the two in relation to one another, and similarly by not using the negative space in the mid-shots of each character to indicate their relative positions, Straub and Huillet only gradually reveal how the characters are related physically. 

    The most famous sequence from the film (pictured above) is a series of lengthy shots over the shoulders of the mythical king Oedipus and his the priest/prophet Tiresias as they travel on the back of a cart by a pair of white oxen. The road stretches out into the distance ahead of them, but the shot is composed in such a way that at the centre of the shot is the horse pulling the cart and the peasant worker/farmer who is guiding him. The length of this sequence, travelling along a road with the camera looking over the shoulder and ahead, recalls the mildly controversial, and equally emblematic, driving sequences from the pair's Geschichtsunterricht (History Lessons, 1972), also set in the ancient world. Similarly while most of the segment involves Tiresias and Oedipus' discussions about sex, the final shot here ends in a prolonged, meditative silence, allowing viewers, to soak in the gentle background sounds of nature and the trundling along of the ox cart.

    Here however, the inclusion of the working class (hu)man interrupts the space between the two elevated figures and their dialogue and draws focus from them. While it is not quite the final scene in the first part, in some ways it's the segue from the first half of the film into the second. The focus has shifted from the mythical characters of "Dialogues with Leucò" to the ordinary twentieth century proletariat of "The Moon and the Bonfires".

    The other thing that is instantly noticeable about the cart sequence is that it is not one long shot as I had imagined before seeing it, but a sequence of shots. Many (if not all) of the joins between these long tracking (carting?) shots are marked by a slowish fade to black. I suspect this marks an elipsis in the text, but would have to check. Certainly it gives the section a sense of discontinuity. This is a longer journey and it is only part of the conversation that being recorded. Notable then that the sequence ends in the aforementioned near silent shot.

    In the final three dialogues we get two hunters discussing the wolf they have just caught which they believe may formerly have been a man. The surrounding rocks and caves which form the backdrop of this discussion suggests these are stone-age hunters. One shot here evokes Moses and the burning bush - though not Huillet and Straub's depiction of it. Then Litierse (Lityerses) and Eracle (Heracles) discuss human sacrifice and how the blood that soaks into the field is soon forgotten (linking to Fortini Cani)

    Finally, an unnamed father and son discuss historic stories of sacrifice. Two two are shepherds, so not only just human, but solidly working class, rather than kings or prophets. Furthering this move from the divine to the profane, the son is critical of the sacrificial system. His father provides numerous answers, but the son is unconvinced, suggesting that there will be further disconnect between heaven and earth int he next generation. As with the cart sequence (and elsewhere), the scene ends with a moment of silence and there are visual similarities here with the orgy scene in Moses und Aron (1975), not least the short where the son lays a bowl of liquid (here milk; blood in Moses und Aron) on the floor.

    The longest "gap" in the film is not so much a gap in the audio fabric of the film as in the opening half, but in the visuals, towards the end of part two. The second half of the film sees a man ("The Bastard", formerly a foundling) return to his home town having made his fortune in America. Much of this part consists of the man's discussions with his former friend Nuto. Nuto is a communist and describes the events of the fascist period which the foundling escaped by his emigration to America, though Christopher Small notes how many of the villagers "remain quietly loyal to fascism". Yet he also hears stories of the resistance to the Nazis.

    The foundling also befriends a boy Cinto who is from such an unstable family that Cinto is given a knife to defend himself with. Towards the end of the film, things in Cinto's family come to a head as his father kills his wife and burns down the farm with only Cinto escaping. But rather than depicting these horrific, violent acts, or even just showing the person narrating them, Straub and Huillet cut to blackand leave only the description as a voice-over. It's a fascinating way of emphasising the violence without glorifying it or manipulating it to build excitement. The prolonged absence of images is striking, but comes in the opposite spirit to the presentation of violence in conventional cinema. It also recalls the gap Moses and Aron between Acts II and III between which Aron's rebellion has been (violently?) overthrown and now Aron in lying l bound-up on the ground, awaiting trial.

    There's plenty more in the film that repeated viewings would bring out more clearly and I'd be interested to read more about it from someone who is familiar with the books. It's a shame this one has not been given more attention, nevertheless the sources might be of interest.
    ======================

    - Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey (1980) "Dalla nube alla resistenza (From the cloud to the resistance)", Monthly Film Bulletin, January. pp.45-6. Available online:
    https://webapps.cspace.berkeley.edu/cinefiles/imageserver/blobs/5f9725b8-0ecf-434f-a30f/content/linked_pdf:

    - Pummer, Claudia (2016), "(Not Only) for Children and Caveman: The Films of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet", in Ted Fendt (ed.), Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, Vienna: Synema Publikationen, pp.56-9.

    - Small, Christopher (2019), "A Straub-Huillet Companion: From the Clouds to the Resistance", mubi.com Notebook Column, July 18. Available online: 
    https://mubi.com/notebook/posts/a-straub-huillet-companion-from-the-clouds-to-the-resistance

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