Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle HuilletWest Germany132 minutes1986ColourGerman
This adaptation of the unfinished drama by Hölderlin is one of Straub-Huillet's most important (and daunting) films.
One of Straub-Huillet's most important (and daunting) films, The Death of Empedocles (subtitled When the Green of the Earth Will Glisten for You Anew) is as mystical as its subject, the 5th-century B.C.E. Greek prophet and philosopher who averred that the world consisted of the four irreducible elements of water, earth, air, and fire. In this adaptation of the unfinished drama by Hölderlin, Empedocles is accused of being too in love with the gods, which is a form of blasphemy, and is driven into exile on Mount Etna, until some remorseful townspeople ask him to return and govern. Ever attuned to cadences of speech, Straub-Huillet treat Hölderlin's ecstatic text as a form of music — Jonathan Rosenbaum declared that Empedocles "make[s] the [German] language sing with a depth and beauty that I've never heard before" — and fill the spaces around words with the sounds of nature. Contra the blasted wasteland of Pasolini's Teorema, the directors' vision of Mount Etna is filtered through their love of Cézanne, as noted by Dominique Païni: "The Straubs do not show the lava, nor the burns of the volcano, but the trees, the sky, the wind, the blue, that of the sky — a Cézannian landscape."