Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub: Trop tôt, trop tard

Trop tôt, trop tard produced by French filmmakers Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub in 1982, starts with a camera, mounted on a car driving repeatedly around the Place de la Bastille in Paris. The camera points outwards in this case, it catches cars passing in other lanes, the buildings encircling the square, and the surrounding cityscape, a wide sky dotted with clouds. In total, it circles the square 14 times. After a few circles, a voice-over sets in – a text by Friedrich Engels read by Danièle Huillet – recounting the failure of the revolution of 1789, the recurring betrayal of the plebs and the revolution by the bourgeoisie. In the second part of the film, the camera is stationary, but turns around itself to scan the full circle of the landscape surrounding it towards the horizon. These shots have been filmed in Cairo and the Egyptian countryside.

From the circling camera, the narration extends outwards, shooting off tangents into different chronologies of the workers’ and peasants’ revolts that happened at the sites of the filming or spread from there through the width and breadth of the country at differnt points through its (colonial) history. A continuous sequence of uprisings, from the moment of the invasion of Egypt by the French forces of Napoleon I in 1798 to the “petit-bourgeois” revolution of Naguib in 1952 are chronicled by the narrator over the top of the rotating land- and cityscapes. Uprising follows defeat, defeat follows uprising, follows defeat.

Meanwhile, the camera turns right, it completes a circle, it comes to a halt.

The film cuts to a new location, the camera circles, then stops again. The camera turns around itself 18 times, at different sites, as the narration of revolutionary uprisings and failures stretches and unfolds – until the point in time when the moment in time of the making of the film cuts its seemingly endless repetition to an (arbitrary) end.