There’s a fairly well-known quote, often misattributed to Albert Einstein, that goes something like: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. It’s become a more recognizable concept during the pandemic, as many of us find ourselves caught in repetitive cycles without a daily change of location to provide some sort of reprieve. There is a distinct sense of mania—stir-craziness or cabin fever, perhaps—that many of us would prefer not to acknowledge, but which filmmaker Jonathan Glazer effectively captures in his latest short film, Strasbourg 1518. “Devised and directed” by Glazer, the short, which can be watched in full online courtesy of A24 and BBC Films, features an assortment of dancers performing jarring and repetitive choreography to a score composed by Mica Levi—who previously collaborated with Glazer on Under The Skin.
Filmed by cinematographer Darius Khondji, each dancer performs in a largely vacant room, the hours of the day passing from morning into afternoon into evening—over and over again. A man flails near his television, a woman frequently washes her hands in a bucket, another occasionally greets no one in particular with “good morning.” Strasbourg 1518 is inspired by a curious event that occurred in the time and place to which the title refers, when a woman wandered onto the streets of the village and began dancing ceaselessly. Anywhere from 50 to 400 villagers were said to have been affected by the “dancing plague,” with some sources claiming there were around 15 casualties a day (due to dehydration, most likely) at one point. It isn’t the alleged illness that speaks to our current era of isolation, but the senselessness and mania of that so-called plague.
Also worth noting is this quote accompanying the short, taken from John Waller’s The Dancing Plague: The Strange, True Story Of An Extraordinary Illness: “The minds of the choreomaniacs were drawn inwards. Tossed about on the violent seas of their deepest fears.”