A film by Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet
1974, 105 minutes
No. 140

One of Straub-Huillet's major films, the filmmakers shot Schoenberg’s unfinished opera in the Roman amphitheater of Alba Fucense.

Taking nearly 15 years to finance, Moses and Aaron was based on their rigorous consideration and questioning of Biblical and archaeological history, particularly with respect to the collective memory — passed down and transcribed over hundreds of years, however inaccurately — of the Egyptian enslavement of the Hebrews and the Exodus.

Straub-Huillet’s concern is with the myth of human progress, and the transition from polytheism to monotheism. Lost in the process, they suggest, was a kind of tenderness and rootedness in nature, a traumatic absence into which a new kind of violence was born.

Official Selection, New York Film Festival

"[The directors'] rarefied aesthetic coheres perfectly with the opera to come off as a kind of 12-tone filmmaking which, like Schoenberg’s music, reclaims a classical ideal for a progressive cause that owes nothing to nostalgia. Oblique angles, long takes, and static tableaux allow Straub and Huillet to go straight to the drama inherent in the story and the composition. The stark images are as passionate and engaging, profound and beautiful as the complex music to which they insightfully respond." - Richard Brody, The New Yorker

"Schönberg's passionately dialectical opera is notoriously difficult to stage adequately, and Straub's 'materialist' approach serves it better than any theatrical production is ever likely to; the precise, ultra-concrete images are simple enough to permit concentration on the score, and (again like the Bach film) sufficiently charged to generate a passionate intensity of their own." - Time Out London

"The greatest opera film ever made." - P. Adams Sitney