April 30, 2018  (Web Review)

Moses and Aaron

Grasshopper, 107 min., in German w/English subtitles, not rated, DVD: $29.99, Blu-ray: $34.99

Reviewer rating: 2.5/4

In 1974, French filmmaker couple Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet—known for their rigorous style and radical politics—turned an unfinished biblical opera by Arnold Schoenberg into what one might call an art-house equivalent of Norman Jewison’s Jesus Christ Superstar (with all of the pluses and minuses that entails). As God’s chosen instrument, Moses (Israeli baritone Gunter Reich) is meant to lead his people out of Egypt. But under Moses’s brother Aaron (Louis Devos), the Israelites turn away from Moses’s inscrutable and invisible God, erecting a golden idol to worship (in a scene featuring brief full nudity). The singers and extras usually pose in often-unmoving stances and geometric patterns, and all of the filming takes place al fresco, largely in and around an ancient Roman amphitheater. At times the camera simply dwells on objects or just empty (or near-empty) space. In an included pamphlet, scholar Ted Fendt explains stylized details for newcomers, such as a non-sung third-act epilogue that should really be interpreted as an alternate ending. Extras include a feature-length assortment of Straub-Huillet shorts (two based on Heinrich Böll stories), spanning 1962-72. A strong optional purchase. (C. Cassady)