A film in three parts: An aquarium, a man sitting at a table reading various text passages, and a sequence from Jean Renoir's film La Marseillaise.
“Question: Can an aquarium be like Cézanne's mountain?
Yes, in the aquarium chez Meng, Straub finds an image of us and our history (religion and politics; the birth of Christianity, the fall of the French monarchy, the anti-fascist struggle during the Second World War, Gaullism, psychoanalysis). As in Jean-Marie Straub's other films (made with or without Danièle Huillet), historical events are brought together to reveal their underlying ideologies or "mental structures". In this respect, L’aquarium et la nation is perhaps the most comprehensive work in their filmography.
Follow-up question: Can a film be like a potlach gift?
Yes, at least for Huillet and Straub.
One last question: Have we reciprocated their gift?
No, but we haven’t given up yet.”