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Influential French Auteur Jean-Marie Straub to Receive Locarno Lifetime Achievement Award

Variety logo Variety 6/22/2017 Nick Vivarelli
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ROME — French auteur Jean-Marie Straub, who with his late wife Danièle Huillet formed one of cinema’s most intense, innovative and influential collaborations in modern cinema, will be honored by the Locarno Film Festival with its Pardo d’onore Manor lifetime achievement award.

Born in Metz in 1933, and currently a resident of Switzerland after living in Germany and Italy, Straub in 1954 met Huillet in Paris. They started a sentimental and creative partnership centered on the experimental cinematic adaptation of literary works, plays, and even a painting by Cezanne.

The couple’s first feature-length film was “The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach” (1967), based on the life of the singer Anna Magdalena Bach, wife of composer Johann Sebastian Bach. In 1969 Straub and Huillet moved to Rome where they made several features, including “Les yeux ne veulent pas en tout temps se fermer, ou Peut-être qu’un jour Rome se permettra de choisir à son tour,” (“Othon”), their first work in color, a rigorous adaptation of  Pierre Corneille’s classic tragedy “Othon.” It was shot in ancient settings such as Rome’s Palatine Hill and the Villa Doria Pamphili but surrounded by the sights and sounds of modern-day Rome.

Over five decades Straub and Huillet created highly personal film adaptations of works by  Böll, Kafka, Brecht and Dante, among others, and also homages to D.W. Griffith, Renoir, and Bresson. They sought to make what Straub called “an abstract-pictorial dream” while staying rigorously close to the text and also providing a Marxist analysis of capitalism and class struggle.

Their films “From The Clouds To The Resistance” (1968) and “Sicilia!,” premiered in the Un Certain Regard section in Cannes.

“Often featuring a non-professional cast – which is the ideal palette for a direct rapport with words – the work of Straub and Huillet is anti-spectacular and profoundly political, but never slips into propaganda,” the Locarno announcement noted.

At 84, Straub continues to make films, most recently autobiographical short ”Où en êtes-vous: Jean Marie Straub?” in 2016.

Straub and Huillet always had close ties with Locarno. “The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach” played there in 1968, their “Antigone” screened on the Piazza Grande in 1992, and “Kommunisten”  premiered out-of-competition in 2014.

Straub will receive the Pardo d’onore Manor in Piazza Grande on Friday night, August 11.

“It is a special honor to be able to recognize the personality and achievement of Jean-Marie Straub,” said Locarno artistic director Carlo Chatrian who added that their films hold a unique and special place in the history of modern film and still have an undeniable influence.

“‘Rigorous’ is a term that has often been used to describe their [filmmaking] practice; watching their films again one also feels how much freedom pulses through every frame – something that is absolutely necessary to ‘digital’ filmmaking [today],”  he noted.

Recipients of the Pardo d’onore award at past editions of the fest include Samuel Fuller, Jean-Luc Godard, Ken Loach, Sydney Pollack, William Friedkin, Jia Zhangke, Alain Tanner, Werner Herzog, Agnès Varda, Michael Cimino, Marco Bellocchio and Alejandro Jodorowsky.

The 70th edition of the Locarno Film Festival, which is dedicated to indie and cutting-edge cinema, will run August 2-12 in the Swiss lakeside city.

The festival lineup will be announced on July 12.

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