“I was hoping to make a film about objects which would at the same time have a soul”, so said Bresson about A Man Escaped (Un condamne a mort s’est escappe), his gripping prison-break film, but that comment could apply for any of Bresson’s elusive, austere works. Watching a Bresson film is very similar to the experience of contemplating a painting in a museum. Bresson exercised a flat though rigorous style in which each shot is perfectly framed and the narrative concisely edited.
His subjects—whether they be his young “models” or barnyard animals—are filmed in a meditative fashion but these “objects” are not stagnant or ambiguous. They burn with a stubbornness and spirituality which combined with the director’s precise sense of time, space, and rhythm, creates narratives of existential suspense, edging his seemingly passive protagonists towards an inevitable date with fate.
The very private Bresson kept his background obscure. His birth year seems to be placed at 1901, though in later years Bresson fudged the date all the way up to 1911 to trick wary producers into funding his films. Intellectually ambitious, the young man dabbled in philosophy, and Greek and Latin, before taking an interest in painting after high school. But the high strung lad didn’t have the patience to pursue a career in art, so he drifted towards the cinema.
Bresson directed his first film Les Affairs Publiques in 1933, a surreal short said to offer little to those looking for early clues of the director’s immaculate style. He continued to write screenplays (including a brief collaboration with director Rene Clair) with middling success until war broke out. Captured by the Germans, Bresson spent a year in a prison camp (1940-41). The experience of being confined against his will is said to have Bresson’s inspiration in filming Un condamne a mort s’est escappe. It no doubt left an indelible impression on the fledgling artist.
Bresson’s first feature, Les Ances Du Peche, tackled many of the themes he would return to throughout his career. Anne-Marie (Renee Faure), an attractive young woman from a good family, pledges to join a Dominican order of nuns dedicated to putting convicted women back on the straight and narrow. Her mother is taken aback when she learns her daughter will share quarters with criminals and voices her concerns to the Prioress (Sylvie).
The head nun is skeptical about Anne-Marie as well, for she finds it difficult to believe such a headstrong girl will submit to the convent’s orderly way of living. But the determined Anne-Marie digs in and chooses the felon Therese (Jany Holt) as a personal rehabilitation project.
Released from prison Therese kills the man who wrongly sent her up then retreats to the convent for safekeeping. Entrenched in the serene quarters, Therese begins to push Anne-Marie’s buttons forcing the pledge to confront the nuns over their ridiculous fawning over a cat which leads to expulsion. The selfless expatriate tries to make amends by prayer but she catches cold in a rainstorm and becomes gravely ill. Conscience-stricken, Therese tries to nurse Anne-Marie back to health then, in act of cleansing, turns herself into the police for the murder.
Anne-Marie turns out to be a typical Bresson heroine. Stubborn and solitary, she rebels against the emptiness of her family’s bourgeois existence and injustice in the convent. She is unwise in reaching out to Therese who she sees as a sister in spirit. But, Therese is a creature of negative passions who takes revenge on her former lover and Anne-Marie, the two people responsible for keeping her in confinement. Yet, both women make the ultimate sacrifice to find grace with God.
Although Les anges du peche seems glossy and melodramatic compared to the director’s later, austere films the willingness of the heroines to swallow their pride, accept entrapment, and submit to a form of self-annihilation are distinct Bressonian touches.
Bresson’s next project would turn out to be his most, and perhaps only, commercial film. Based on loosely on an episode from Diderot’s Jacques the Fatalist, and featuring modern dialogue by Jean Cocteau, Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne is a sophisticated melodrama about Helene (Maria Casares), an upper class woman who seeks to spark the romantic fire of Jean (Paul Bernard), her hopelessly phlegmatic lover, by suggesting a separation. When he gratefully accepts the break-up Helene seeks revenge by setting him up with Agnes (Elina Labourdette), a dancer who turns tricks on the side, to secure Jean’s social doom.
The plan succeeds as Jean falls in love with the young woman who, Helene suspects, is anxious to latch onto a well-off man. But the sincere Agnes returns Jean’s affection and when she tries to explain her past in a letter to her lover, fate blows the confession back to her, unread. After Jean marries Agnes Helene reveals the crushing truth to the groom. In the meantime, Agnes has suffered a heart attack and it seems likely she won’t survive the night. Shattered, Jean rushes to her side where he forgives his stricken bride.
Although we are well aware of Bresson’s guiding hand in Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne, the contributions of the hyper-romantic Cocteau are evident, as well. The prickly relationship between Helene and Jean is more benignly incestuous than carnal, likely due to the casting of Paul Bernard, an urbane actor who doesn’t generate much heat on the screen. As a result, Jean’s courting of Agnes doesn’t reach the transcendent heights suggested by the lush production values.
The vitriolic, inwardly suffering Helene comes closer to a traditional Bresson heroine. But, Helene is graceless, incapable of sacrifice, and her wicked act excludes her from the exalted circle in the end.
The first readily recognizable Bression film is, of course, Diary of a Country Priest (Journal d’un cure de campagne). Based on the Georges Bernanos novel and scripted by Bresson, it is unhappy saga of a young priest (Claude Laydu) who arrives in a small French village to oversee his first parish. He is given little encouragement by his supervisor who labels the locals as vicious. Suffering from bad health the priest lives, solely, on stale bread and wine. The small-minded congregation learns about the priest’s odd diet and begins to spread rumors about his alcoholism. The priest has difficulty winning favor; even the young girls practicing for communion mock and betray him.
The teenager Chantal (Nicole Ladmiral) takes the priest into confidence but troubles him with her anger. He visits her mother, a bitter Countess (Rachel Berendt) estranged from the church and God. The priest seems to make headway with the woman, helping in leading her out of the path of darkness, but the next evening he learns she has died, an apparent suicide. Chantal spreads a false rumor around the community that the priest’s stern lecture had driven her mother to despair.
Worn down by illness, the priest finally visits a doctor where he learns he has stomach cancer. He accepts his fate and turns to a friend, a fallen priest who takes him into his house. There, the priest suffers his agonizing fate but dies in a state of “efficacious grace”.
For Diary Bresson hired untrained players eschewing personality acting for purity of expression. He made sure his “models” wore deadpan faces and rarely registered emotion. Bresson believed this technique helped his audience see into the soul of these spiritual people trapped in earthly bodies. Unlike the state of the art, commercial cinematography used in Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne Bresson’s canvas in The Diary of a Country Priest is flat. The models are filmed in mid-shots, there is little camera movement and the editing is unobtrusive. Bresson eschewed depth of focus, preferring to use on and off screen sound to give his films three-dimensionality.
When asked whether his singular take on filmmaking was Jansenist, the elusive Bresson both confirmed and denied theological influence. But, as we shall find in the coming years, Bresson’s persecuted models would face their suffering bravely as if their paths to glory were indeed predestined.
Based on a war memoir of Andre Devigny and Bresson’s own P.O.W. experience, Un Condamne a Mort S’est Escappe (A Man Escaped) is a taut story of one man’s survival. Lieutenant Fontaine (Francois Leterrier), a soldier of the French resistance, is caught by the Nazis and sent to a Lyon prison where he awaits execution.
Once incarcerated, he refuses to accept his fate and his active mind begins to plot escape from the well-fortified prison. An earlier, unsuccessful break-out attempt and a subsequent beating makes Fontaine consider a subtler approach. The meticulous man memorizes every crack and crevice of his cell, the meaning of the sounds in the hallway and the dimensions of the prison’s courtyard during his brief walks. At night, he sneaks out of his confines to scout access to the roof. He cultivates inmate friends through snippets of conversation at the sink or tapping on the walls of his cell. Fontaine uses the meager means in his cell to create tools and carve out a hole in the wooden door.
Fate seems to throw him a curve when Jost (Charles LeClainche), a young prisoner bent on collaborating, moves into his cell. But this intrusion turns out to be a stroke of luck as Fontaine determines it is easier for two men to escape instead of one. Through his enormous wealth of patience and an ability to flourish within extreme limitations, Fontaine breaks from his shackles and finds spiritual release in freedom.
Shot mostly on location at the prison where Devigny was incarcerated, Un Condamne a Mort S’est Escappe turned out to be the cinematographer’s most personal project to date. Bresson reveals the world of a solitary prisoner through the monotonous sounds of his day to day life. Fontaine’s drab existence is flattened out to the point where off-screen rifle shots, signaling the execution of a fellow inmate, become mundane and carry as much significance as the footsteps of an approaching guard, or muted voices of the prisoners in the courtyard.
Drawing strength from gathering his arsenal of tools, the small victories over his captors, some unexpected good luck, and the blessing from a minister he has befriended in the washroom, this chosen man escapes from his deadly captors with minimal difficulty.
Unlike its American doppelganger, Samuel Fuller’s cold war thriller Pickup on South Street, Pickpocket is a Dostoevskian cat and mouse game between an existential hood and a streetwise cop. Michel (Martin LaSalle) is a dapper and arrogant young Parisian driven to petty crime by his philosophical rejection of middle-class values.
Preferring to be his own boss, he rejects the overtures of a friend who offers to set him up with a good job. Michel avoids his dying mother who is being cared for by a pretty neighbor girl Jeanne (Marika Green). Michel later tries to make amends, but it is too late she will soon die. Jeanne offers Michel comfort and the possibility of love but the rootless young man moves on.
Becoming more proficient at robbing riders in crowded subways, Michel captures the attention of a wizened Police Inspector (Jean Pelegri), as well as Kassagi, the head of a local pickpocket racket. Kassagi gives Michel a master’s tutorial in sleight of hand tricks until he is ready to participate in the film’s centerpiece, a shakedown tour de force at Paris’ Gare de Lyon station. Michel joins the gangster’s cronies as they lift purses from unsuspecting passengers in line, and once aboard the train they create a myriad of distractions, cleanly pilfering the wallets and jewelry of those aboard.
With the police inspector closing in, Michel flees to Milan then to London where he continues his crooked existence. Two years later, Michel returns to Paris, broke and looking for action. On a visit to a race track but he finds he is being watched but, perversely, he still tries to lift a wallet and is caught. He willfully succumbs to arrest. In jail he is visited by Jeanne, in whose devotion he hopes to find his salvation.
A brazen criminal, the cool, methodical Michel shares a distrust of authority not unlike Fontaine from Un Condamne a Mort S’est Escappe. He wants to be his own man, but to live outside of society and the law Michel must become expert at his craft; stealing. Conversely, unlike his mentor Kassagi, Michel takes too many risks and leaves himself open to being caught. He is at turns friendly and confrontational with the Police Inspector and almost challenges the cop to arrest him. Michel finally wearies of his tense life on the lam and seems relieved when he is caught.
A relationship with Jeanne and the promise of a cleansing rehabilitation seem on the horizon but as we have learned in the previous Bresson film, prison is no haven for a restless mind.
Though Bresson is frequently linked to fellow transcendentalist Carl Theodore Dreyer, his Procès de Jeanne d’Arc is a more subdued and religious take on the French icon than Dreyer’s Expressionistic La Passion de Jeanne D’Arc. As befits Bresson, his film is visually flat and plays in what the cinematographer conceived as a simple musical rhythm.
We are left with no doubt about the alleged heretic’s immediate future; Joan (Florence Delay) is to be tried, condemned and will die at the stake. The Earl of Warwick (Richard Pratt) pressures the English-appointed Bishop Cauchon (Jean-Claude Fournier) to speed up the trial so justice can be served swiftly. But this gallant leader of the French armies refuses to go softly into the night and claims she is on a mission from God. Joan questions the validity of the trial and Cauchon’s church then demands an audience with the Roman Pope.
In an effort to break Joan’s spirit, the interrogators torture her and accuse the young woman of sleeping with soldiers. They humiliate Joan by forcing her to undergo an examination to prove her virginity then make her wear a dress. At a breaking point, Joan accepts a commuted sentence then just as abruptly she changes her mind and chooses deliverance to her God.
In the aftermath of her execution Joan’s disappearance at the stake is clearly meant to be a transcendent, supernatural occurrence. It symbolizes Joan’s victory over her interrogators, who were hardly the human gargoyles we see in Dreyer’s film but skeptics acting in the interests of England. The casting of the plain and decidedly unglamorous Florence Delay as Joan proved controversial, but her chilly intelligence and steely resolve places her comfortably aside Laydu, Leterrier and La Salle in the Bresson canon of predestined players. The inscrutable Proces de Jeanne d’Arc may not be the ultimate cinematic take on the revered French saint, but it could well be the truest.
Au Hasard Balthazar and Mouchette mark the beginning of Bresson’s great maturity as an artist. Loosely based on Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, Balthazar is the story of a donkey forced into a life of cruel treatment and hard labor. His human alter ego Marie (Ann Wiazemsky) is an impressionable teenager whose schoolmaster father (Philippe Asselin) rubs locals the wrong way with his innovative methods of running his farm. A crippling lawsuit has already humbled the family forcing them to give up Balthazar, a donkey they had adopted when Marie was a child. Beaten by his new master, Balthazar escapes and returns to his old home where he is embraced by Marie.
In the meantime, childhood sweetheart Jacques (Walter Green) has returned to deliver a message to Marie’s father. The besotted Jacques tries to woo Marie but she is cool to him. She is fascinated by Gerard (Francois LaFarge), a choirboy who is also the vicious leader of a local gang. Gerard takes an aversion to Balthasar and torments the animal, a precursor of how he will treat Marie.
Citing financial straits, Marie’s father passes the donkey onto a baker and the animal ultimately ends up with Arnold (Jean-Claude Guilbert), a local alcoholic suspected of murder. Arnold puts Balthazar to work giving burrow rides to tourists when Gerard and his gang show up to abuse the drunk and his donkey. In a boozy rage, Arnold beats Balthazar until the donkey runs away.
Balthazar is adopted by a pair of circus performers and after a revealing sequence where the donkey seems to acknowledge the Big Top’s animals trapped in cages, he is turned into a ridiculous sideshow act until Arnold shows up to reclaim him. Just when Arnold fears he will finally be arrested for his crimes, the police inform him he has inherited a fortune from a dead uncle. Arnold will not be able to enjoy the money as he dies in a roadside accident the same evening.
By now, Marie’s fortunes have taken a downturn. Her father is deathly ill but when she tries to confess her recent sins to virtuous Jacques he doesn’t seem to understand. Rejected by Gerard, she offers herself to an old miser before running away for good. Gerard bargains with the schoolteacher’s wife to borrow old Balthazar for just one night. Unbeknownst to her, Gerard wants to use the donkey to smuggle stolen goods across the border. The police catch up with the hoodlums and open fire at them. A bullet hits Balthazar who wanders off into a pasture where sheep are grazing. There, the weary, wounded donkey lays down and dies.
As Bresson’s recent films had followed the plights of actively ascetic heroes, this tale of innocents doomed to dwell in a world of ugliness comes as a shock to the system. Marie, Arnold and Balthazar are simple souls and passive figures who willingly suffer at the hands of cruel adults and masters. In Au Hasard Balthazar Christian symbolism runs rampant—most notably in the strange and beautiful scene where Marie makes Balthazar a crown of flowers. Bresson’s intentions, like belief, remain a mystery and his film leaves wildly different impressions on each of its viewers. Still, it’s not too much of a stretch to say Au Hasard Balthazar is a call for tolerance and virtues in a world gone terribly wrong.
Adapted from another Georges Bernanos novel the heartbreaking Mouchette is a similarly bleak tale of a fourteen year old girl (Nadine Nortier), who lives with her ignorant father (Paul Herbert), a brother, an infant sister and her bedridden mother (Maria Cardinal) in a dingy village house. Mouchette bullies her schoolmates and irritates her teachers and family with rebellious behavior. But in reality, the poor girl is alone, isolated, and desperately looking for love and acceptance.
After Mouchette’s father brutally breaks off her flirtation with an older teenage boy she turns to the village poacher Arsene (Jean-Claude Guilbert) for tenderness, but he rapes her. The inarticulate girl tries to broach the subject to her mother, but the sickly woman is beyond help and will die that evening. The day after her mother’s death Mouchette is shown false sympathy from the neighbors and the game warden (Jean Vimenet) who exposes Arsene as a liar and a thief.
Sick of her dreary world and the small-minded people who inhabit it, Mouchette aims to get back at them the only way she knows how. She wraps herself in her dead mother’s shroud and makes two pitiful attempts to drown herself before she finally succeeds.
As the friendless girl, Nadine Nortier is one of Bresson’s most effective models in a large part because of her expressive face and animal grace. The soulful teenager stands out from the rest of the nondescript looking cast and her sad and sullen reactions to the community’s hostility gives the film much of its emotional power.
For an artist who equated sentiment with bad taste, it can be argued Au Hasard Balthazar and Mouchette proved the rare instances where overtures were made to connect with a more general audience. Such goodwill gestures would be few and far between. For the remainder of his career, Bresson turned his camera towards increasingly nihilistic worlds.
For his next two films Bresson adapted short stories from one of his favorite authors, Dostoevsky, and set them in modern day Paris. In Une Femme Douce (A Gentle Woman) a pawnbroker (Guy Frangin) tries to come to grips with the suicide of his beautiful, beguiling wife (Dominique Sanda). The unlikely couple meets when the young woman comes into his shop to pawn off her last possession, a gold-plated crucifix. Touched by the girl’s innocence, he is prepared to give her more than it is worth, but feeling compromised she rejects his offer. The calculating man continues his unlikely pursuit until he wins her hand but the mysteries of her heart prove elusive.
Once married, the practical husband enforces a strict budget and muzzles his wife’s spontaneity by questioning her taste in the arts and not measuring up in bed. When the jealous pawnbroker suspects her of having an affair he tracks her down to a parked car where he overhears her rejecting a suitor. Embarrassed by his folly the husband steps up his efforts to making the marriage work on his terms but only succeeds in smothering her into submission. Sick and miserable, the wife sees no other way out than taking flight from the balcony of their apartment to the pavement below.
Four Nights of a Dreamer (Quatre nuits d’un reveur), based on the Russian master’s White Nights, opens in a dreamy fashion when a painter Jacques (Guillaume de Forets) stops a young woman Marthe (Isabelle Weingarten) from jumping into the Seine. He learns Marthe is heartbroken over her lover’s renege on a promise to return to her after a year’s absence.
Jacques and Marthe meet again at the Pont-Neuf Bridge for the next three nights to comb the streets of Paris and open their souls to one another. Jacques falls for the sad girl but she cannot reciprocate his feelings as her heart belongs to her former lover (Maurice Monnyer). Marthe innocently teases Jacques by claiming she is fond of him, but his romantic hopes are dashed when her lover makes a surprising reappearance.
In the Dostoevsky films, Bresson shows an affinity for the free-spirited children of the late 1960s. Yet, in his first color films the visual and acting styles remain muted. His Paris looks bleak and downtrodden, almost as if the bourgeoisie has retreated behind their doors and shutters while the hippies have taken over the streets. Stubborn and controlling, Jacques and the pawnbroker offer protection with the vain hope of winning love of their enigmatic women. But, these bird-like creatures (Dominique Sanda and Isabelle Weingarten) can’t bear being dominated by sluggish men and will even destroy themselves if they can’t get their way.
With Lancelot du Lac Bresson realized a dream of making a film based on the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. His anti-epic opens with Lancelot (Luc Simon) and the Knights returning home after an unsuccessful quest to secure the Holy Grail. Disappointed at failing King Arthur (Vladimir Antolek), Lancelot tries to break off his romance with Guenievre (Laura Duke Condominas) but she refuses to bow to his wishes.
A rumor spreads through the Kingdom that one of the knights, Mordred (Patrick Bernard), is plotting to overthrow the King. Lancelot offers friendship to the rebellious Knight but Mordred turns him down. Lancelot succumbs to his desire for Guenievre and Mordred informs on him to the King. Lancelot goes into hiding and at a tournament he appears in disguise and defeats several of his men in the games. Afterwards, Lancelot disappears and is given up for dead.
After convalescing at an old lady’s home in the forest Lancelot returns to rescue Guenievre from a gloomy cell. Arthur offers to take Guenievre back and after a sad farewell, Lancelot returns his Lady to his King. There, he learns of Mordred’s rebellion and his joins Arthur in the field of battle where they both perish.
From the opening sequence, in which we are treated to a gruesome decapitation and bloody swordplay, we know this isn’t going to be just another Romantic take on the Arthur legend. The shocking scene is unusual for Bresson, who had always restrained from showing violence or death on the screen.
Lancelot is a flawed hero, but the bound by duty knight rings true to Bresson’s preference for a predestined leading character. Lancelot tries to mend fences between the King’s men and keep them from defecting to the treacherous Mordred. Lancelot is declared a saint by the gallant knight Gawain, yet he cannot resist the charms of his friend’s wife.
We really don’t see much evidence of Lancelot’s saintliness nor his lust. Indeed, Luc Simon and Laura Duke Condominas are so bloodless the film almost takes on an iconic quality during their scenes together. Ultimately, Lancelot and Guenievre sense their love is doomed so the noble Knight rides off to die with his King leaving the Queen Consort to suffer the consequences.
Bresson returned to the streets of Paris to make his most pessimistic film to date, Le diable probablement (The Devil, Probably). Once again, young people would be Bresson’s models but the early promise of the counterculture has degenerated into despair and narcissism.
Nihilistic arch-angel Charles (Antonie Monnier) baffles his activist friends by rejecting their attention-grabbing methods of calling rabble-rousers to arms and planting inflammatory fliers to inflict social change. Charles’ angelic looks and Romantic personality captivates both Alberte (Tina Irrisari) and Edwidge (Laeticia Carcano), two local beauties aiming to curing his despairing heart. But alas, the sex is empty and Charles’ attempt to find solace in the church only leads to his being questioned by suspicious police officers. Seeing no other way out of the ugliness surrounding him, Charles hires a junkie-friend to stage his own execution.
There is little doubt where Bresson stood on environmental issues given the film’s ample documentary evidence of man-made sludge and its hideous consequences. Once again, the taking of one’s own life plays a pro-active role, but this time the choice Charles makes turns out to be a protest against these depressing conditions he is forced to live in. A child of modern times, Charles arranges his death on a famous stage; the Pere Lachaise cemetery.
Like Une femme douce, the film opens with the inexplicable suicide-death of its young lead and spends the next hour and a half trying to unravel the mysteries of a human soul. But with few people to truly mourn him, Charles’ self-sacrifice turns into a tabloid story and will likely become just another testament to wasted youth.
Based on Tolstoy’s short story The Forged Coupon, the taut and unforgiving L’Argent follows a phony five hundred franc note put into circulation by a pair of mischievous teens. Looking to get some quick cash the boys pass the bill off at a photographer’s shop for a cheap frame. After already having accepted phony bills from two other counterfeiters the store’s angry proprietor (Didier Baussy) pawns off three fake notes on Yvon (Christian Patey), an unsuspecting gas company employee. When Yvon is caught trying to pay for his lunch with one of the bills, he is accused as a forger.
Fearing he may lose his job, Yvon sues the photographer but once in court the wily proprietor gets his shop boy to lie for him on the witness stand. Yvon gets fired and when he is unable to find work he turns to crime. He takes part in a failed bank heist and after being arrested he is sent to jail for three years. While languishing in prison, his young daughter dies and his wife leaves him.
Once Yvon is freed, the broken man retreats to the countryside where he is taken in by an elderly woman (Slyvie van den Elsen) who is looking after her father and sister. The two lonely people commiserate in a peculiar sort of way, but the bitter Yvon is too far gone to begin anew. One night, the new lodger picks up an axe and goes from room to room on a murderous rampage. Bloodied, but curiously liberated, Yvon enters a café where he orders a final drink as a free man then turns himself into a local constable.
Bresson had not intended L’Argent to be a swan song, but the film expanded on numerous themes running throughout his body of work and proved an apt conclusion to his career. As in his other “prison films”, jail isn’t a place for meditation and rehabilitation so much as a weigh station where souls are destroyed. With his life in a shambles, Yvon takes his bloody revenge not on the kind old lady, but the uncaring, materialistic society that had ruined both of their lives.
It’s no real surprise in later interviews Bresson feared the younger generation was steamrolled into conformity by accumulating buying power at the expense of spiritual growth. Bresson’s radical ideas of removing shackles and breaking on through crime, escape, suicide and murder flew in the face of the law and organized religion. But, desperate times require desperate measures and a little artistic license. Bresson’s predestined models were laws unto themselves.
Books on Bresson:
Robert Bresson – James Quandt (ed.) ****1/2 As it seems unlikely there will ever be definitive biography on the very private Bresson, this heady and authoritative collection of essays and interviews will have to do. A deep and diverse study, with contributions from the likes of Susan Sontag, Jean-Luc Godard, Paul Schrader, Roland Barthes, Raymond Durgnat, Richard Roud and Alberto Moravia, etc., is the current bible for all things Bresson.
Notes on the Cinematographer – Robert Bresson **** A precise collection of notes from the head of one of our most speculative and spiritual filmmakers. Best read in brief snippets and absorbed accordingly.
Transcendental Style In Film – Paul Schrader ****1/2 In part two of his transcendental film study, Schrader shows how Jansen theology, Scholasticism and Byzantine iconography have all influenced Bresson’s rigid, incandescent style.
The Films of Robert Bresson – Ian Cameron (ed.) **** A superb compilation of essays where several major film critics and theorists take their cracks at getting to the essence of this elusive director. Out of print.
Films by Bresson:
1943 Les anges du peche (Angels of Sin) ***1/2
1945 Les dames du Bois de Boulogne (Women From the Boulogne) ***1/2
1951 Diary of a Country Priest (Journal d’un cure de campagne) ****
1956 Un condamne a mort s’est escappe (A Man Escaped) ****1/2
1958 Pickpocket ****
1962 Proces de Jeanne D’Arc ****
1966 Au Hasard Balthazar *****
1967 Mouchette *****
1969 Une Femme Douce (A Gentle Woman) ****
1971 Four Nights of a Dreamer (Quatre nuits d’un reveur) ****
1974 Lancelot du Lac ****
1977 Le diable probalement (The Devil, Probably) ****
1983 L’Argent ****