Schwarze Sünde (Black Sin). 1988. West Germany. Written and directed by Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet. Based on the third version of The Death of Empedocles, by Friedrich Hölderlin. With Andreas von Rauch, Vladimir Theye, Howard Vernon. 35mm. In German; English subtitles. 42 min.
Straub-Huillet filmed the third version of The Death of Empedocles, the unfinished late-18th-century play by the German lyric poet Frederich Hölderlin, in the dazzling sunlight and mottled shadow of the Sicilian landscape. It was there that the Greek pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles legendarily cast himself into the volcanic fires of Mount Etna to prove his immortality. Empedocles debates Pausanias, his loyal disciple (erômenos), about the divine powers of love and strife that govern all matter, whether the strange and mystical elements of air, fire, water, and earth, or the mercurial and tragic behavior of gods and humans, mad in their compulsion to forsake nature and each other. Black Sin is a meticulous rereading and reworking of a play whose first version Straub-Huillet had adapted in The Death of Empedocles.
Corneille-Brecht. 2009. France. Written and directed by Jean-Marie Straub. Based on Othon and Horace, by Pierre Corneille, and The Trial of Lucullus, by Bertolt Brecht. With Cornelia Geiser. In French, German; English subtitles. 27 min.
In various guises and in melodic fashion, Cornelia Geiser recites verses from Pierre Corneille’s Horace and Othon, and extended excerpts from Bertolt Brecht’s 1939 radio play The Trial of Lucullus, in which the Roman General is summoned to the underworld to stand trial for the sufferings he inflicted on commoners and slaves. Across centuries of Western civilization, Straub draws echoes between the “monstrous” rulers of ancient Rome, the kings of 17th-century France, the fascists of Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, and, by implication, those in power today who continue to inflict suffering on those without power.