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


One of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s major films, Moses and Aaron finds the filmmaking duo, through their exemplary craft, transforming a familiar Biblical tale into a borderline-surreal cinematic opera of seemingly endless possibility.

Based on 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, the film is concerned with the myth of human progress, and the transition from polytheism to monotheism.

In expressive, melodic tones, the fraternal pair debate God’s true message and intent for His creations, a conflict that leads their followers — in extravagantly choreographed song and dance — towards chaos and sin. Set almost entirely within a Roman amphitheater whose history lends every precise line-reading and gesture, every startling camera move and cut, a totalizing force, Straub-Huillet’s adaptation of Schoenberg’s unfinished opera opens us to the stimulating worldview of a filmmaking duo whose masterful efforts are finally coming to light.

Official Selection, New York Film Festival

"An immensely moving, even thrilling work. One of the monuments of 20th-century cinematic modernism." — Dave Kehr, The New York Times

"I saw it at Cannes at the time... It was so beautiful, captivating, intelligent — a beauty that doesn’t want to be beautiful, and that’s how it’s achieved." — Chantal Akerman, director of Jeanne Dielman

"A cinema of exhilaration... As in some Ford films, a tracking shot can make you cry. They are the only films I know in which you can feel the force of gravity." — Thom Andersen, director of Los Angeles Plays Itself

"[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

"The film that turned me into a Straubian was Moses and Aaron, after which the colors of everything I saw for the next few hours felt super-intensified." — Ted Fendt, Brooklyn Magazine