The impenetrability of European indie directors Danielle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub, who have for almost 40 years now carved out their niche in film history with seminal experimental films like “The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach,” seemed to have lifted, a little, in their 1998 “Sicilia.” Based on a book by the writer Elio Vittorini, it illuminated a piece of Italian post-war history through images and dialogue. In “Workers, Farmers,” alas, obscurity settles in again. Perhaps shocked by the number of people who enjoyed “Sicilia” (extremely small in any case), the duo has taken another text by Vittorini and filmed actors standing around in a woods reading it. Massive walkouts at the Cannes screening portend dribbles of ticket-buyers for the Pierre Grise release at selected Parisian locations.
For over two hours, a dozen actors in half-hearted post-war costume either stare into the camera and recite, or lower their eyes and recite, or read from a script. A reader of Vittorini would at least have the benefit of a book jacket and preface to put the words in context. The audience does not.
The characters are part of a utopian post-war collective of workers and farmers who went off to live in the countryside amid great hardship. Pic throws comprehension to the winds, however, and viewers could be mislead into thinking the action took place during the war, or in some kind of prison camp.
The whole operation could have been more profitably carried out as an audio book, with liner notes to make the dialogue meaningful.