Monday 9 October 2023

Too Early, too Late (Zu Fruh, Zu Spat) (1981)


Zu Früh, Zu Spät

There are movies that are difficult to find and there are those that are downright impossible to track down. I was unable to buy, stream, or even find a dodgy download of “Zu Früh, Zu Spät” (“Too Early, Too Late”), and this might have been the first movie on the List that I would have had to skip. Then I discovered that the Cinematheque in Copenhagen would be screening it twice here in October, the first time being last night. What are the odds? It has been a terrible weekend, my wife and I have been following the news constantly since Saturday morning, so I was very close to cancelling the movie, yet it turned out to be exactly what we both needed.

“Zu Früh, Zu Spät” is a strange movie. 60% of the very brief Wikipedia entry on this movie says: “It is a sequence of shots of rural landscapes [in France] accompanied by readings of texts about the struggles of poor farmers, followed by another sequence of shots in Egypt.” And that is basically it.

The shots are long, sometimes static, sometimes a pan and, in the most exhilarating sequence of the movie, ten or so turns around Arc de Triumph in Paris. Nothing really happens in these shots, but they are long, some of them excruciatingly so. I find myself focusing on a bird passing from one side of the image to the other or the slow march of clouds across the frame. In the Egyptian part we also get a ride along a dirt road in the style of those Norwegian movies where they just place a camera on the front of a locomotive and let it film for hours.

Nothing much ties the images together, they are just scenery. In the French segment a heavily accented narrator reads excepts from what may be a census of poverty in France in the eighteenth century and at times we recognize the village name on the images so it is presumably a list of how many poor people lived here 200 years earlier. This is also the only connection between the images and the pictures. As these places are presented today (or in 1981) they are idyllic, even charming, and ancient poverty levels is my last thought looking at these pictures. I am thinking: vacation!.

In the Egyptian segment the disconnect is even more pronounced. Most of the images are of rural Egypt and while they are not as idyllic as the French images, they look like something out of National Geographics. Meanwhile, the narrator, with very long breaks, talks about a history of revolts and how they were put down from the Napoleonic era and until the fifties. In a last clip, we are watching a general (presumably) giving an untexted speech in Arabic for a few minutes after which the narrator mumbles something about that the new rulers betrayed the popular movement that brought them to power.

I am having a hard time associating the title with anything I watched, expect that the French “story” takes place a few hundred years ago and the Egyptian is more recent.

To me, it felt like a couple of hours browsing Google Street View and the radio going in the background, doing some dull political story. It sounds immensely boring, and I suppose it is by any standard, but it was also incredibly relaxing, and we did have some good laughs afterwards. Quite a relief after a stressful weekend.

Curiously, this movie was quite an attraction. I think there were three or four times more people in the cinema than when we watched Golda a few weeks ago. Some of them, I am afraid to say, were snoring.


  1. This is one of those films I remain convinced was put on the list so that someone could feel superior at having seen it and not because there is anything here worth seeing.

    1. Yeah, that is the only explanation that makes sense. I was quite surprised how many went to the cinema to watch it, so apparently it has a name. However, I doubt many of them got anything out of it.

  2. I can’t even imagine what it is like for you and your wife to watch all this horror.

    1. Horrific. There is a lot of stuff going around on social media that gives you sleepless nights.