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Video Essay: "Axes! Axes!"

An exploration of how violence is uniquely confronted in films by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet: By abandoning the screen.
Jorge Suárez-Quiñones Rivas
The memory of humanity for sufferings borne is astonishingly short. Its gift of imagination for coming sufferings is almost even less. It is this callousness that we must combat. For humanity is threatened by wars compared to which those past are like poor attempts and they will come, without any doubt, if the hands of those who prepare them in all openness are not broken.
—Bertolt Brecht, 19521
There is a story of violence hiding behind every player that leaves the frame. The stories around Antigone, Othon, and Empedokles are part of the same History of Violence as those around Karl Rossmann, Machorka-Muff, and Valino.
Here, violence is confronted by leaving; quitting the frame, which does not mean giving up. Whether by anger, boredom, or disappointment, the players confidently depart. Like partisans they actively set out, taking up exile from the frame, leaving it devoid of their presence.
Following the call to axes pronounced by Creon in Antigone (1992), all the players move away silently after speaking—or, more precisely, after having declaimed their lines. We have not heard their speeches for the off-screen audience, but we can understand—not from words but from gestures.
Creon is therefore confronted, just as Classical Antiquity is confronted by Classical Antiquity, and, later, Classical Antiquity by the Century of Wars. Shot/reverse-shot. In the heart of these dialectics, by means of a panoramic shot moving away from Creon—the sole camera movement in this confrontation—we get to hear, yet not see, the common voice of the Chorus of this tragedy warning about the danger of forgetfulness.
It is only after the image is emptied of humans that nature can be heard again: birds, trees, wind, clouds, insects… and even dirt. The chance of reassembling these fragments into a shared, horizontal structure suddenly becomes feasible. We can then realize that, certainly, all the players (whatever be their commitment towards violence, wherever they find themselves involved between the limits of executor and executed) have left from a common ground. This common ground appeared to be fragmented and obscured by ancestral, imposed violence, and finally becomes visible as a unity once that violence is rejected. Abandoning the frame then becomes a transforming political and active decision, as if only leaving helped where violence reigns.
After several withdrawal attempts, Creon is thought to have definitely left, but in fact he is the only one coming back, entering again, drilling the frame from one side. A feeling of eternal return invades these images and sounds when, by means of a raccord enclosing centuries, Creon is again confronted. As an epilogue before it all restarts again, Cinto, a child running away from fire and murder, becomes the only one to completely pierce the frame, entering from one side and leaving through the opposite.
A never-ending cycle providing space and time for the same mistakes to be repeated again and again, defining simultaneously a terrible menace and a bright opportunity.
***
From the complete filmography by Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub, this essay includes all of the static shots filmed in natural exteriors or ruins in which one or more players abandon the frame after having visibly and completely declaimed their lines towards offscreen interlocutors, leaving the screen deprived from human presence and voice until the end of the shot.
Machorka-Muff (1963) 
Eyes Do Not Want to Close at All Times, or, Perhaps One Day Rome Will Allow Herself to Choose in Her Turn (1970) 
From the Clouds to the Resistance (1979) 
Class Relations (1984)
The Death of Empedocles (1987) 
Antigone (1992)
1. English translation of the end credits of Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub’s Antigone (Die Antigone des Sophokles nach der Hölderlinschen Übertragung für die Bühne bearbeitet von Brecht 1948 - Suhrkamp Verlag, 1992)

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VideosVideo EssaysJean-Marie StraubDanièle HuilletStraub-Huillet
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