Jean-Marie Straub, La France contre les robots (France Against Robots), 2020, HD 4/3, 9:53 min. (1st and 2nd version)
Text: Georges Bernanos, La France contre les robots, 1945 (excerpt from Chapter 1)
Actor: Christophe Clavert
Image: Renato Berta, Patrick Tresch; Grip: Blaise Bauquis
Sound: Dimitri Haulet, Renaud Musy; Mix: François Musy
Assistants: Anca and Grigore Bof, Paola and Giorgio Passerone, Lucie Taffin
Editing: Christophe Clavert; Color timing: Rodney Musso, Jean-Baptiste Perrin
Post-production: Olivier Boischot
Production: Barbara Ulrich, Belva Film
At dusk, a man (Christophe Clavert) walks alone along the bank of a lake, and the camera (by Renato Berta) follows him. He then breaks his silence and pronounces, as stated in the opening credits, the diagnosis that Georges Bernanos made, as early as 1945, on the current world and the “system” which governs it. Will the camera, slightly behind the soliloquent walker, catch up to him? Will it overtake him to reveal his face, as he demands that we see the truth – up front? Or on the contrary, will he maintain the lead associated with clairvoyance? We will find out when the tracking shot and the monologue have ended. A final assertion (“A world won for Technology is lost for Freedom”) is uttered from across the French shore of Lake Geneva, just as Bernanos addressed to France, from Brazil, his premonitory essay, France Against Robots. The page extracted from the text (the second) is then heard again. Another take makes it possible to listen to the walking man again and to follow him not again, but anew. Because the light is no longer that of twilight, for those who can see, one never walks along the banks of the same lake twice.
Georges Bernanos had already inspired Dialogue d’ombres (Dialogue of Shadows) that Jean-Marie Straub filmed in 2015, revisiting and modifying a project developed with Danièle Huillet in 1954. As for Lake Geneva in Rolle, it is a place, as he says, he has managed to “tame” in recent years (see Where Are You, Jean-Marie Straub?, Pompidou Center, 2016). Hence Gens du Lac (People of the Lake), 2017, and, even shorter, this film dedicated to Jean-Luc Godard by the hand of the author.
– Jacques Bontemps
“…[F]ifty years from now, if someone sees a film from today that has been declared very filmic, he won’t understand anything because for him it will be a bad, rhetorical dream; he won’t see anything but the rhetoric or the ‘language’ or the ‘art’ or the filmic aspect. I make things without art and without language.”
— JEAN-MARIE STRAUB, Cahiers du cinéma, 1970
Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub directed twenty-eight feature films in their fifty-two years of shared life and work, creating an oeuvre that is one of the most unique and uncompromising in modern cinema. Their vast filmography is as diverse as the material that served as the basis of many of their narratives, including writings by Brecht, Hölderlin, Duras, Kafka, Pavese and Vittorini, as well as music by Bach and Schoenberg. Straub and Huillet often reinterpreted forgotten or overlooked classical works, investing them with a renewed polemical relevance. Their films bring stories of class struggle and resistance to the surface, examining post-war power relations and offering a critique of capitalism throughout history and across linguistic and territorial borders. Created with intense rigor, beauty and political commitment, each of their deeply inventive films demands our full attention at every moment, presenting cinema as something both surprising and necessary.
Straub and Huillet’s films reflect the couple’s creativity and generosity, their solidarity with their collaborators, and their respect for language and nature. Critic Louis Séguin wrote that Straub and Huillet “belong to a non- hierarchical and frontierless clan of rebels, stateless persons and social misfits, and the challenge of their cinema matches this permanent irreducibility.”
Le destin des images: allons nous devenir prisonniers (The Fate of Images: will we become prisoners?)
Audio track of the French television show Le Cercle de Minuit, presented by Laure Adler
France 2, February 18, 1997, 70 min. (in French)
In conversation: Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet, Philippe Quéau, Paul Virilio, Enki Bilal and Laure Adler
Click here for ENGLISH TRANSLATION (excerpts)
LAURE ADLER: A historian by training, Laure Adler has had a long and prolific career as a journalist and writer. In 1989, French President Mitterrand appointed her as a cultural advisor. In 1993 she took over the cultural program “Le Cercle de minuit” on the France 2 television channel. She has written biographies of Hannah Arendt, Françoise Giroud, Simone Weil and Marguerite Duras.
In February 2016, President François Hollande wanted to name Adler the new Minister of Culture, but Adler thought the call was a hoax (Le Canard enchaîné, February 24, 2016).
PAUL VIRILIO: Paul Virilio (1932 – 2018) was a French cultural theorist and urbanist, particularly well-known for his study War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception (London: Verso, 1989).
PAUL QUÉAU: A specialist in Information Science, Philippe Quéau was the founder and program director of Imagina, a forum for new images and virtual reality at the Institut national de l’audiovisuel (INA) between 1981 and 1995.
ENKI BILAL: Enki Bilal is a French comics artist, graphic novel author and film director. In 1983, he collaborated with Alain Resnais on La Vie est un roman (Life Is a Bed of Roses).
ANNOTATED SCRIPTS [PDF]
This method of annotating scripts didn’t exist in the beginning; it came about little by little.
There were several versions of these annotated scripts: one for each actor, one for Danièle, and one for me. Every day, after each rehearsal, we used to take stock of our comments and Danièle would write out all these annotations on the actors’ scripts.
My version is more confused. There are mood notes that I jotted down during the rehearsals while I listened to the actors speak. Danièle would make her notes too. After rehearsal, we would stand in front of the stage and give them our comments, and Danièle would note down everything on the script of each actor. She did it for them because they weren’t capable of being sufficiently precise or because they were lazy. As soon as I had said my remarks, it was over; I took no more notes. I forgot everything until the next day, whereas Danièle would also annotate her own script after the rehearsals, to remember what had been done.
The different colors correspond to the different days of rehearsal. The red triangle is the classic sign: danger, to point out the old ways in which they fell every time; things they needed to pay attention to. When they weren’t aware of what they were saying, of the word; when they skipped a pause or when their pause was empty, etc. The points they needed to work on, in order to be more precise and more conscious. Because every time they fell into their old habits. Then that becomes a green rectangle, to differentiate, etc. …
The craziest battlefield in this regard was the annotated script for A Visit to the Louvre. We badgered Julie Koltaï down to the last detail. She wasn’t up to the task in the beginning, and as it was a voice-over commentary, it had to be even more precise than a filmed text.
Laure Adler: What is an image?
Jean-Marie Straub: I don’t know… I don’t know… I don’t know… An image is something one has tamed. An image is something which is constructed. An image is something that has a form. An image is personal, human sensations which are materialized; this is not from me, but from Cézanne. But that’s it. There are no ‘virtual’ images; they don’t exist.
The inhuman thing has nothing to say, hence this great scandal that the sciences teach us nothing at all! I don’t remember who said that, but maybe Paul Virilio will know!
Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, The Death of Empedocles, 1986, 35 mm, color, 1.37:1, 132 min.