Ayrene — Danièle Huillet, 70, Creator of Challenging Films, Dies

Topic(s): In Memorium | Comments Off on Ayrene — Danièle Huillet, 70, Creator of Challenging Films, Dies

3 obit + one post on a blog
1. From http://www.liberation.fr/
2. From NYT
3. From film journey
4. From Guardian
1. From http://www.liberation.fr/
Straub sans Huillet
Par Olivier SEGURET
QUOTIDIEN : Mercredi 11 octobre 2006 – 06:00
Danièle Huillet est morte dans la nuit de lundi à mardi. Elle avait 70 ans Elle était en France depuis quelques jours, pour accompagner la sortie mercredi prochain, de Ces Rencontres avec eux, son dernier film, cosigné avec Jean-Marie Straub, comme toujours… Et comme plus jamais.
C’est terrible à dire, mais nous le savons tous instantanément : morte, Danièle Huillet nous tue deux fois puisque, Huillet mourant c’est aussi Straub qui, probablement, ne filmera plus. Terrible aussi parce que sa mort produit ainsi une sorte d’immense déchirement dans le grand drap conjugal où nous projetions leurs films, et c’est comme si le deuil de ce grand morceau de leur étoffe commune, qu’elle emporte au-delà, nous était impossible, interdit, puisque suspendu à un autre, qu’évidemment nous craignons.
Qu’est-il temps de dire, alors, à propos de Danièle Huillet, qui n’arrive pas «trop tôt, trop tard», pour reprendre le titre de l’un des plus beaux documentaires du couple ? Lui accorder, peut-être, la justice d’un regard singularisé. Inverser l’ombre de la mort en éclairage sur sa personne unique, insister sur ce qu’elle a toujours pris grand soin d’effacer, de cacher : cette singularité en propre de femme, d’artiste, de maîtresse disparue sous l’exigence impérative du couple. Sans prétendre ni même viser à le percer, c’est d’abord à ce secret humain considérable qui habitait la personne de Danièle Huillet que l’on voudrait rendre hommage.
Une anecdote (assez) célèbre fixe assez bien son tempérament, acquis très tôt : elle refusa avec véhémence l’épreuve d’analyse au concours de l’Idhec (ancêtre de l’actuelle Fémis), qu’elle avait pourtant assidûment potassé, arguant que le film soumis, Manèges d’Yves Allégret, était indigne de l’examen. Cinquante ans plus tard, elle était encore capable de la même intensité dans la révolte, l’esclandre, voire la violence, puisque «seule la violence aide où la violence règne», comme le disait Non réconciliés, le premier long métrage qu’elle tourne avec Straub, rencontré en 1954, et dont elle ne s’est jamais dé-conciliée depuis.
Si son intimité reste mystérieuse, c’est tant mieux : l’imaginer en compagnie de Straub dans leur repaire romain, avec son vieux chien anticapitaliste et d’innombrables chats, nous suffit. Il y a comme une absence totale et merveilleuse d’intérêt people dans la personne de Danièle Huillet, et cette protection miraculeuse nous renseigne en creux sur tout ce qu’elle n’a pas voulu être : à quel point elle a échappé à tous les clichés où l’époque a voulu célébrer «la femme». Chez Danièle Huillet, ni les magazines féminins ni les fondations de luxe n’ont jamais rien pu récupérer. Elle n’a donné prise à aucune forme de ces valorisations modèles que les médias et les marchands modernes encouragent. Politique en tout, politique jusqu’au bout, elle a prolongé dans les moindres détails de sa vie quotidienne, civique, sociale et amicale, ce refus absolu du compromis sur lequel se fondait le pacte passé avec l’homme de sa vie. L’austérité, du personnage, sa dureté certaine, doivent se comprendre à cette aune : les exigences terribles où Danièle Huillet pouvait tenir autrui n’étaient manifestement rien comparées à celles qu’elle n’a cessé de s’imposer.
Elle laisse une oeuvre confondue à celle de son compagnon, long, radieux et puissant coup de tonnerre dont il est trop tôt pour réfléchir la matière. On a déjà, du moins, une idée de ce que l’on perd avec elle : le couple n’est plus, la mort l’a scindé. La machine à deux têtes ne fera plus la guerre, l’animal féroce et fabuleux, le dragon protecteur, exclusif donc abusif, qui veillait pour nous sur la plus haute idée du cinéma, n’inquiétera plus nos mauvaises consciences. Dormez, braves gens ?
2. From NY TImes:
Danièle Huillet, 70, Creator of Challenging Films, Dies
Danièle Huillet, the French-born 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, died on Monday at the home of friends in the Loire Valley in France. She was 70.
The cause was cancer, Agence France-Presse reported. Ms. Huillet, who lived in Rome with her husband, was visiting France for treatment of her illness.
Their latest film, “Ces Rencontres Avec Eux” (“These Encounters With Them”), is scheduled to open in France on Wednesday. In the film, nonprofessional 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 filmmakers, Mr. Straub and Ms. 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 analyzed 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 onscreen or off, the texts were placed in counterpoint to concrete images, creating a sense of language as a solid, sensual phenomenon itself.
Danièle Huillet (pronounced hwee-YAY) was born in Paris on May 1, 1936, and attended the Lycée 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 1950’s, she refused to submit the required entrance essay on the grounds that the film she was asked to analyze, Yves Allégret’s “Manèges,” was unworthy of serious consideration.
In 1954, she met and soon married Mr. Straub, a kindred spirit from Lorraine. She later joined him in exile in Germany when Mr. 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 Böll about the survival of Nazism in postwar German life.
Their next film, “The Chronicle of Anna-Magdalena Bach,” was their first international success. It remains the only Straub-Huillet film available on DVD in the United States. 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 1970’s, 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, Mr. Straub enjoyed playing bad cop at festival press conferences to Ms. Huillet’s softer, more conciliatory personality.
Never willing to abide by the rules of commercial filmmaking, 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.
In a tribute published yesterday in the French newspaper Libération, the critic Olivier Seguret expressed the fears of many admirers of Straub-Huillet: “Dead, Danièle Huillet kills us twice, because her passing probably means that Straub will never film again.”
3. From filmjourney
Tue, Oct 10, 2006; by Doug Cummings.
Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie? (2001)
The news is spreading that Danièle Huillet–the personal and filmmaking partner of Jean-Marie Straub for over half a century–passed away this week, ending one of the most acclaimed filmmaking teams of the New German Cinema (though Huillet and Straub were both French and lived in Rome). If you’re unfamiliar with their work, you can be forgiven–only their first feature, the exquisite Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (1968) is available on DVD in North America, and co-director Huillet isn’t mentioned once in its liner notes by Armond White or the excerpts from Richard Roud’s study, simply entitled Jean-Marie Straub (1972). Barton Byg, whose scholarly Landscapes of Resistance (1995) I’ve just discovered is online, refers to Huillet’s constant marginalization:
“Although Danièle Huillet is clearly one of the most important women working in the postwar European cinema, she remains almost totally ignored by film criticism. One reason for this is as scandalous as it is simple: since all of Huillet’s work has been in collaboration with Jean-Marie Straub and the two have refused to stylize themselves in any particular way as ‘artist personalities,’ the sexist assumption of the 1950s that Straub is the principle auteur of the two has remained unquestioned. . . . Instead, for years [Huillet] has stayed in the background, especially since she believes that interviews and discussions–in which Straub more readily engages–may do the films more harm than good. . . . Furthermore, the single area in which Huillet does leave more of the decisions to Straub is the aspect of filmmaking that has been reified into the directorial ‘signature’–e.g., script and mise-en-scène–and especially those areas in which Huillet may be more in charge–sound, editing, ‘scene design,’ and many producer’s functions–all fit more readily the stereotype of women working behind the scenes.”
But nowhere is the equality of the Straub-Hullet creative partnership more evident than in Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Costa’s excellent portrait of the duo, Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie?, filmed as part of the estimable Cinéma, de notre temps French TV series. Since Costa’s magisterial Colossal Youth (one of the best films I saw at TIFF) is receiving accolades at the moment, I thought Huillet’s tragic passing would be a good time to consider the documentary (available as a Portuguese DVD from Assíro & Alvim).
Costa observes Straub and Huillet in the editing process, juxtaposing Huillet’s movieola screen (featuring clips from 1999’s Sicilia! that she runs through the viewer) with wider shots of her room (which Straub continually paces), another room of technicians (probably editing assistants), and a public screening in which Straub delivers an informal talk.
I was immediately struck by the film’s similarities in tableau visual style to Colossal Youth: Straub and Huillet’s room is dimly lit and statically shot with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 at a slightly lower angle, with a figure (in this case, Straub) frequently posed in the doorway. More than an aesthetic signature, however, this approach lends the setting a dramatic gravity and emphasizes the shifting space–and corresponding emotional and creative distance–between the two filmmakers. As tensions flare at one point, Straub saunters out of the room (“You don’t want me in here anyway”) but gently reappears: “I’m afraid you’ve won,” he tells Huillet after admiring her scene assembly. “Men!” she sighs.
And flare their tempers do, even as their preferences to cut a shot may differ only by a single frame. Straub, a natural magpie mind with a quote for every occasion, seems to thrive on osmosis and verbal pontification; Huillet seems more task-oriented and focused on immediate solutions. “After all this time we’ve been editing films together, how come you still don’t have the discipline?” she shouts at Straub. But after talking through their differences, Straub eventually finds the words to articulate a stronger defense for his perspective.
As Huillet repeatedly runs the film back-and-forth, searching for precise editing moments, Straub muses on film theories promoted by Cocteau, Bresson, and Chaplin, quotes scenes by Tati and Mizoguchi, and racks his brain trying to recall the name of Hitchock’s script girl. (When talking of how he met Huillet at the Lycée Voltaire for the first time in 1954–“I had fallen madly in love at first sight”–he claims he was kicked out because “I knew too much about Hitchcock and that disturbed the class.”)
As might be expected, Straub provides the bulk of the film’s philosophical flair, describing why formalists have less patience and therefore less creativity than realists (“charged with contradictions”), or why professional actors are more false than non-professional actors. But Costa’s film is infused with Huillet’s creative energies as it emphasizes the nuances of her constant searching, playing, marking, and replaying moments of film. In addition to being a multifaceted portrait of their creative process, it’s an instructive examination of the art of editing in general; one of the film’s pleasures is watching how closely Huillet and Straub observe their own footage, discovering unwanted palm trees, random butterflies, or subtle smiles, and coming up with solutions to incorporate or elide them in their final cut. The film’s obtuse title, in fact, could be a playful riff on the latter as a tribute to the filmmakers’ sensitivity to cinematic realities, but also as a testament to the subtle warmth that has clearly cemented their long and fruitful collaboration.
Straub-Huillet will be missed. You can read an insightful 1976 interview in Jump Cut with them here. Let’s hope their films will continue to surface on DVD in the near future.
4. from Guardian
Danielle Huillet Obituary
Experimental film-maker who challenged cinematic language
Ronald Bergan
Wednesday October 18, 2006
The Guardian
For more than 30 years, Danielle Huillet, who has died aged 70, and her husband, Jean Marie Straub, worked as an indivisible entity, directing, writing and editing some of the most personal, rigorous, challenging and ultimately rewarding films in cinema history. Their films resembled no others. Now, with Huillet’s death, we will probably not see anything like them again.
Straub and Huillet were faithful to each other, to their audiences and to their art, never compromising. Together they reinvented cinema, not only in style – the voiceovers, the unartificial performances, the treatment of texts, the use of extremely long takes, either with a fixed camera or in complex tracking shots – but in the way they made thought visible. As Marxist dialecticians, they created severe cinematic critiques of capitalism in a manner that paralleled the works of Bertolt Brecht in the theatre.
Although it is almost impossible to indicate which one of the couple did what on any of their films, it is likely that Huillet did most of the editing. As seen in the 2003 television documentary by Pedro Costa, Huillet is trying to cut Sicilia (1998), based on Elio Vittorini’s 1939 novel, while Straub keeps pacing up and down in the corridor, smoking cigars, and occasionally interrupting his wife to make a comment, only to disappear again. She was the calmer of the two, Straub’s rock to cling to. She was also much the more practical, handling any money matters and dealing with distributors and festival directors.
She was born on May Day in Paris, and met Straub (pronounced Strobe), who came from Alsace, in 1954 at the Lycée Voltaire in Paris during preparatory courses for a competition to enter Idhec (Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques). Huillet immediately showed her independent spirit when she refused to analyse Yves Allégret’s Manéges for the entrance exam because she felt the film unworthy.
In the early 1960s, Straub, in order to escape having to serve in Algeria, went with Huillet to live in Munich. There they made Not Reconciled (1965), their first feature. Taking an episode from Heinrich Böll’s radical, anti-militarist postwar novel, Billiards at Half-Past Nine, it is an elliptical examination, in stark black and white, of the collective psyche of the German people that led to the rise of Nazism and its insidious existence in contemporary Germany. It not only launched Straub-Huillet (as they became to be known), but was a landmark film of the decade.
The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (1967), which followed, was the first of their innovative approaches to presenting music on film. An anti-biopic, it concentrated almost entirely on the music, showing Bach (played in two senses by Gustav Leonhardt) as an everyday working musician who produced sublime works. Straub-Huillet also shot two Arnold Schoenberg operas, Moses and Aaron (1974) and Von Heute auf Morgen (1997), refusing to dub the singers, albeit with their own voices, as is usual in such projects.
In 1969, the couple moved to Rome, where they remained until her death. There, they set up an unruly house populated by one dog and innumerable cats, and where they devised their radical films, mostly edited in Paris. The first was Othon (1969), for which they got a group of non-actors to read the Corneille play, without much expression, against the noises of modern Rome. They continued to subvert the texts of Brecht (History Lessons, 1972), Stéphane Mallarmé (Every Revolution is a Throw of the Dice, 1972), Cesare Pavese (From the Clouds to the Resistance, 1978) and Franz Kafka (Class Relations, 1984, adapted from the novel Amerika).
People who dealt with the Straubs often spoke of how they were the most stimulating couple, but also the most exasperating. This was probably due to their refusal to compromise on any issue. For example, when their meditative documentary, Une Visite au Louvre (2004), was shown at the London Film Festival, they not only insisted that there should be no English subtitles nor earphone commentary, but that there should not be any synopsis of the film given in the catalogue or flyers.
They courted controversy right until the end, when their latest film, Ces Rencontres avec Eux (These Encounters of Theirs), based on Pavese, was shown in competition at this year’s Venice film festival. Explaining their non-attendance at the festival, they sent a message that said they would be “unable to be festive at a festival where there are so many public and private police looking for a terrorist … but so long as there’s American imperialistic capitalism, there’ll never be enough terrorists in the world.” Nevertheless, the jury gave them a special prize “for invention of cinematic language in the ensemble of their work”. They replied that it was “too late for their lives, but too early for their deaths”.
She is survived by her husband.
· Danielle Huillet, film-maker, born May 1 1936; died October 9 2006