Too Soon, Too Late

Too Soon, Too LateJean-Marie Straub & Daniele Huillet, France/Egypt, 1981, 105mins

Opening with one of the most memorable shots ever filmed, and screened a year after the initial successes of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, Too Soon, Too Late is a search for the traces left on the landscape of past revolutions in France and Egypt.

The film was followed by a discussion with a group of folks who had spent some time with the film and in discussion with each other about the themes and issues it addressed. Originally, they were due to speak to Jean-Marie Straub by Skype, but they were unable to participate so the discussion was led by the group including: Gesa Helms, Leigh French, Sacha Kahir, Neil Grey and Luke Fowler.

 

Straub/ Huillet’s films, (always based on other works1; always challenging the nature of filmmaking) are incredible examples of minimalist cinema as a kind of cognitive experience – they reach out and force you to think.  They don’t resort to entertainment, but aren’t without emotion.  They offer a genuine, radical alternative to both dominant narrative cinema and conventional art films, and have influenced countless other filmmakers.

 

Opening with one of the most memorable shots ever filmed, then split in two sections (French then Egyptian countryside): Too Soon, Too Late juxtaposes the most astonishing panning shots (always moving with the wind, always shot from an unobtrusive distance), and the narration of two texts. The first, an excerpt from a letter written by Friedrich Engels describing the impoverished state of the French peasantry on the eve of the French Revolution; the second by Mahmoud Hussein concerning the Egyptian peasants’ resistance to the British occupation prior to the revolution in 1952. 

 

Screened a year after the initial successes of the 2011 Egyptian revolution: Too Soon, Too Late is a search for the traces left on the landscape of past revolutions in France and Egypt, placing the camera not too close, or too distant, to observe (with incredible rigor and scruples), what remains of those revolutions; did they happen too soon, did they succeed too late?2

 

Here’s how Straub once introduced the film, via three quotes: 

D. W. Griffith at the end of his life: “What modern movies lack is the wind in the trees.

Rosa Luxembourg: “The fate of insects is not less important than the revolution.

Cézanne, who painted Mont Saint-Victoire again and again: “Look at this mountain, once it was fire.

  • 1. Transforming Kafka or Hölderlin, Cezanne, Bach or Schönberg...
  • 2. Or maybe even: should we reject this idea of the ‘too soon’ or ‘too late’ of political events and movements as a tragic notion legitimating immobility and cynicism; maybe there is a need for being both too soon and too late, if even a moment of eventfulness is to be possible…as Paul Willemen has written.
  • Audio of the Discussion

    Credits
    Credits
    • CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

  • Video of the Discussion

    https://vimeo.com/181066559
    Credits
    Credits
    • Gesa Helms, Leigh French, Sacha Kahir, Neil Grey and Luke Fowler.