Jean-Marie Straub’s FRANCE AGAINST ROBOTS

I wrote the following review of Jean-Marie Straub’s latest, France Against Robots, for this week’s Cine-File list. You only have two more days to stream it!

Screen shot 2020-04-05 at 3.59.31 PM

Jean-Marie Straub’s FRANCE AGAINST ROBOTS (French)

Available to stream free at https://kinoslang.blogspot.com through 4/12.

Jean-Marie Straub’s latest, FRANCE AGAINST ROBOTS, recently received its World Premiere online at Kino Slang, the blog of film programmer Andy Rector. This surprise event is the inaugural program of a new weekly online series sparked by the worldwide quarantine, which, to my mind, puts it in the same “corona-ssaince” category as Bob Dylan’s stealth-dropping of the 17-minute single “Murder Most Foul” and Jean-Luc Godard’s surprise appearance on Instagram Live Chat (in which the great director spoke at length about “images in the time of the coronavirus”). Straub’s 10-minute short begins with a five-minute long take/tracking shot that follows Christophe Clavert (best known as a cinematographer) in three-quarters view from behind as he strolls alongside a Swiss lake and recites a Georges Bernanos text from 1945 about political revolution. The substance of this text, which provides the film with its title, is that different forms of government (e.g., “the Imperial English Democracy, the Plutocratic American Democracy and the Marxist Empire of Soviet Dominions”) may appear to be in opposition but actually share the goal of maintaining the same system that allowed them to acquire wealth and power in the first place. The notion that the Soviet Union “profited from Capitalism” no less than the United States, which must have seemed perverse when Bernanos wrote it at the dawn of the Cold War, looks eerily prescient from the vantage point of the 21st century – but the real hammer blow arrives in the last two lines of Bernanos’ text that Clavert speaks (certainly the most important film dialogue I expect to hear all year): “In short: regimes formerly opposed in ideology are now directly united by Technology. A world dominated by Technology is lost for Liberty.” Clavert stops walking to deliver this last line, and the camera tracking behind him follows suit, as if to emphasize its importance. It is here that viewers likely first become aware that the sky in this shot, filmed at dusk, has considerably darkened over the course of the previous five minutes. Then a curious thing happens: The film restarts. We see the opening titles again followed by another five-minute long take of the same action (Clavert walking alongside the same lake and reciting the same text); only this time the sky is brighter, presumably because it was shot earlier in the day than the take that precedes it. It’s important to note here that Clavert is also credited as “Editor,” which might seem curious for a short that essentially consists of two shots but this single cut proves to be crucial to the film’s overall meaning. In addition to the way the dark/light dichotomy arguably injects a sense of optimism into the proceedings, Straub/Clavert’s allowing us to see the same thing twice also highlights what is specifically filmic about FRANCE AGAINST ROBOTS. This is not merely a film about someone talking. As with the work of Eric Rohmer, it’s about someone talking in a specific time and place – a quality underscored by the way viewers can perceive the slightest variations between the two takes, not just in the images but also on the soundtrack: Along with Clavert’s spoken-word monologue, dig the slightly heightened sounds of honking geese and lapping waves in the background (the mixing of which is credited to the legendary François Musy). (2020, 10 min) MGS

About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

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