Europa 2005, 27 de octobre, 2006, 11’. Loop, digital projection
Here and now
To mark the centenary of the birth of Roberto Rossellini, in 2005 the Fuori orario programme of the Italian radio channel Rai Tre tasked a series of film-makers (including Manoel de Oliveira, David Lynch and Hou Hsiao-hsien) with creating a short lasting between seven seconds and seven minutes. In it, they had to imagine “a moment in the life or death” of Irene, the character personified by Ingrid Bergman in Europe ‘51 (1952).
This well-known film tells the story of an affluent woman who sets out on a journey to seek out the others following her son’s suicide, for which she blames herself. She ends up being committed to a mental institution by leading figures (husband, priest, doctor) from the bourgeoisie which she has turned away from, accompanied only by the powerlessness of the poor people she has tried to help.
How can Rossellini’s discourse be transposed to the 21st century? The Straubs’ response distils the radical political and aesthetic dimension of their films. Shot in the exact location (the Straubs are the master film-makers when it comes to place) of the electrocution of two Maghrebi youths who were being pursued by police, and whose deaths provoked the riots that shook France in 2005, the ten minutes of Europa 2005-27 Octobre (2006) show two pans of the area around the electrical substation where the deaths occurred. The pans are repeated five times with slight variations in length and sound. Over the image at the end, the film-makers superimpose the double caption chambre à gaz / chaise électrique, which dub those that the owning company had put up – much in the style of youth graffiti – following the dramatic events: STOP! Ne risque pas ta vie, and STOP, L’électricité c’est plus forte que toi.
This film – in which not one human figure is shown (we hear the omnipresent background noise: traffic, barking, birdsong, the whisper of the wind in the trees) – conveys the enormous dimension of the Straubs’ work. The flyer becomes a headstone, with the angry expression of pain being substituted by the cold weight of the commemorative monument.
Writer and film historian