Antigone (1992)

Straub and Huillet take ancient Sophocles’ famous Greek tragedy, as interpreted by Brecht, and give it an austere ‘filmed theatre’ treatment that is minimalist, esoteric and occasionally forceful. 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Dir. Jean-Marie Straub & Daniele Huillet
1992 | Germany/France | Drama/Experimental | 100 mins | 1.37:1 | German
Not rated – likely to be PG

Cast: Astrid Ofner, Ursula Ofner, Werner Rehm
Plot: A fearless Antigone, refusing to allow the dishonored body of her murdered brother Polynices to be devoured by vultures and dogs, defies the Thebian tyrant Creon by burying him.
Belva Film

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Esoteric – Literature, Theatre
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Very Slow
Audience Type: Niche Arthouse/Avantgarde

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

To be frank, I’ve never heard of Straub and Huillet’s longstanding filmmaking partnership until in recent weeks. 

The husband-and-wife duo seemed to have made films that were of an acquired taste, at least judging from my first foray into their filmography with one of their so-called more ‘accessible’ works, Antigone

Some of you historical literature buffs may recognise ‘Antigone’ as the famous tragedy written by Sophocles from ancient Greece. 

I don’t really know how to appreciate plays, but as far as this screen adaptation of Brecht’s interpretation of Sophocles’ work is concerned, it is as esoteric as it gets. 

Perhaps ‘screen adaptation’ is not the right term to describe this minimalist ‘filmed theatre’, as a small number of characters speak to each other in an open but empty amphitheatre. 

Are the actors rehearsing the play in modern times?  Or are we transported to millennia ago when something like this might have happened? 

Straub and Huillet were sneaky enough to suggest both by the end of the end credits in a not-so-subtle change of sound design, but perhaps more crucially, suggesting that whatever that transpired in the wise words of Sophocles was still as applicable in present society…

One that has been continuously ruined by the absolute power of the patriarchy, the law of the Father as it were, as rightful and forceful voices from the community and minority are silenced. 

Antigone’s desire to bury her brother who was slain in a needless battle, even if she were to defy the tyrant Creon through action and speech, speaks volume of the millions of women whose bold activism has sparked significant change over the decades, centuries, even millennia. 

Grade: B-

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