A film by Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet
1972, 85 minutes
No. 142

An extended shot from a car coursing through the streets of Rome in 1972 — which is to say, the ancient Republic in ruins — sets the stage for Straub-Huillet’s complex interpretation of Brecht’s unfinished experimental novel The Business Affairs of Mr. Julius Caesar.

The work explores history as it has been written by the victors, with their hero worship of tyrannical leaders (whether Caesar or Hitler), and offers an alternate view of history writing as fractured and potentially revolutionary.

Caesar’s former slave and former banker are both featured, providing their own differing perspectives on the Emperor’s career in the political, economic, and military life of ancient Rome.

Official Selection, New York Film Festival

"[Straub] defies traditional concepts of the medium just as minimal art in the nineteen-sixties went against prevailing sculptural ideas and as the music of Philip Glass ignores accepted theories of composition today." - The New York Times

"The film not only models a notion of cinema that propels the viewer into action, that instructs rather than enthralls, but also presents a visible reality upon which the viewer’s newly critical gaze, one that takes perceptions for signs, and investigates their causes, might be tested." - Notebook

"When I first saw History Lessons, I hadn't even heard of the Brecht novel, and what I knew of Roman history I had learned in high school. Nevertheless I was gripped." - Gilberto Perez, Film Comment