Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet at Work on a Film Based on Franz Kafka’s Unfinished Novel ‘America’

The French word répétition – rather than the English word rehearsal – more closely captures the implicit connotation behind Straub and Huillet’s rigorous and exacting method of preparation for the shooting of Class Relations. A seated Straub asks the actor Christian Heinisch (who plays Rossmann) to deliver his lines over and over, each time, subtly modulated from the last – muting intonation, eliminating traces of colloquialism, and controlling the pace of enunciation – to better reflect the transcription of the written text.

The attempt to elicit a certain decontextualization and particularity to the actor’s manner of speech is coincidentally similar straub.gifto the black screen rehearsal opening sequence of Chantal Akerman’s contemporary film, The Eighties. On one occasion, Straub makes a meticulous observation that the duration of Heinisch’s pause was equivalent to that of a period rather than a comma as defined by the manuscript. The reference to meter and speech also introduces the idea of rhythm and musicality in their methodology, and is reinforced in the repeated image of Huillet replicating the sound of a clapboard at each simulated take. In another occasion, Heinisch is given instructions to flatten the delivery of his lines when approaching another off-screen actor who is directed to collapse on cue, explaining that his character is motivated by curiosity and not concern.

In another sequence, Harun Farocki (in the supporting role of Delamarche) is directed to straighten his bent leg when responding to Rossman’s inquiry over a missing photograph, an action that Farocki performs with the inertial awkwardness of discontinuous motion, and repeatedly rehearses to the point of fluidity.

Huillet: The final question is, does Harun sit or stand?

Straub: If Harun stands, he will look in a different direction. You leave him seated.

The final sequence of the actual location shoot underscores this methodical rigor, filming the same scenario beyond the realization of his acknowledged “best take”:

“It’s improving all the time so you don’t need to worry…Thank you. That was very good. A final one. We still have 20 meters left, continue in this way…”

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