February 28, 2007
These Encounters of Theirs, 2006
In its exaggerated formalism, idiosyncratic performance, and extended temps morts, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet's These Encounters of Theirs is a rigorous and subversively irreverent, but thoughtful, sensual, and articulate meditation on the search for enlightenment, the rapture of divine inspiration, the intranscendable distance of gods, and the elusive quest for immortality. Composed of five distinctive, self-encapsulated, two-actor conversations adapted from the last five stories of Cesare Pavese's Dialogues with Leucò, the film presents a series of mythological encounters - siblings (eccentrically facing away from the camera) attempt to come to terms with the ephemeral nature of divine will, a young couple discusses the nature of human fragility that propels its eternal quest for enduring legacy, an older couple (in a sumptuous panning sequence that concludes with a vertical pan of a Garden of Eden-like paradise) wistfully observes the exhilaration of wide-eyed discovery and new sensations, an artist and his muse contemplate the integral friction and trauma intrinsic in the artistic process (an idea that evokes Straub's impassioned, if abstracted monologue in Pedro Costa's Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie?), two men - perhaps warriors - reflect on the simple pleasures of human contact. Concluding with a sublime two-axis, panoramic survey of the landscape that terminates with a stationary shot of an electrical power line that visually bisects the earth from the sky, the film converges into a profound, yet instinctual image of human transcendence through humility, mortality, struggle, experience, and creation.