Leave some thoughts on Bresson:
Love or hate?
Love, the brutal realism of the unflinching normal lens, shooting at eye level. The droning of his “models” using language like an afterthought. No artifice, no pretensions.
I have seen 2 Bresson films. A Man Escaped which I liked. And Pickpocket which I did not. Using non actors can be risky. On the plus side they can make the film seem more realistic. On the negative side(as I found in Pickpocket) they can be distracting. The lead in Pickpocket seemed too self conscious-he stood awkwardly and didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands.
au hazard balthazar is one of my favourites. realism. simple and to the point.
i first saw “diary of a country priest”, and really hated it. i felt it was the most purposefully boring movie i had ever seen in my life. and it never ended. i fell asleep multiple times in the screening, and the film was still there. it was like a bad dream! that was my introduction to bresson.
then many years later in life, i saw “mouchette” in a theatre. thought it was also boring, but not as much as “diary”. didn’t particularly care for it. then a professor of mine told me it was one of her favorite films, and analyzed it for me. she gave me a copy to watch, and i slowly started to appreciate it more. i was particularly mesmerized by the ending. so i dug into bresson more.
i watched “pickpocket”, but wasnt particularly impressed. except for the bravura extended sequence of the team of crooks robbing people at the race tracks. then i saw “au hasard balthasar”, which seemed to be a companion piece to “mouchette”. it was interesting, but nothing that blew me away. then i saw “lancelot du lac”, and it left me cold. but i didn’t have a very good print of the film, so it was tough to watch.
and then i saw “l’argent”, which is his first masterpiece that i enjoyed. the film was so stark and abstract. it had a strong effect on me, with regards to its formal elements. especially the editing. i want to study it again, because i felt something strong there.
then i read his “notes on cinematography”, and felt it was one of the best books on film i’ve ever read. i became fascinated with his film theory. is it possible to like someone’s theory of film more than the films themselves?
Like his brilliant direction and the use of non-professional actors (and donkeys).
‘au hasard balthazar’ will always remain as one of the, if not the, most beautiful films i’ve ever seen. i’ve never weeped as hard as at the ending of it. in the most seemingly simple and subtle of ways, it manages to touch a certain part of me that only bergman has been able to touch before. ‘mouchette’, too, has the same sort of devastating quality to it.
i think “mouchette” is truly a profound film. i’m looking forward to watching it more and getting deeper into its meanings.
as legend has it, when asked what film they would most have liked to have made, both bergman and tarkovsky answered “mouchette”.
I would say hate but I quite like Au hasard balthsar and Diary of a Country Priest. I find his doctrine on film a poor attempt to be different, to be counted amongst greater artist just because of this theory which fails most of the time to work well. The Trial of Joan of Arc and Lacelot du Lac being prime examples of how his models simply don’t work on screen. The constant, blatantly obvious distraction of his ‘models’ reading their lines off the floor is incredibly poor filmmaking and detracts immensly from the mood he wishes to create by having emotionless corpses stare endlessly at the floor hoping people will see in it some profound meaning. Having said that there are some truly brilliant ideas in most of his work and I admire his commitment.
“The greater the success, the closer it verges upon failure (as a masterpiece of painting approaches the colour repro).” – Bresson
“In every art there is a diabolical principle which acts against it and tries to demolish it. An analogous principle is perhaps not altogether unfavourable to cinematography.” – Bresson
“Not beautiful photography, not beautiful images, but necessary images and photography.” – Bresson
“is it possible to like someone’s theory of film more than the films themselves?”
Well, I’ve always felt guilty about not liking Frank Zappa’s music as much as my appreciation of his various writings and interviews over the years would suggest…
As far as Bresson is concerned, my first was L’ARGENT on its original release – and I still vividly remember being completely discombobulated by the fact that he seemed to be deliberately breaking all the rules I’d somehow persuaded myself were essential to the creation of a good film: no establishing shots or even reaction shots, for instance. But it then very quickly dawned on me that these “problems” were nothing of the kind, and that the absence of inessential trivia meant that the film was so precisely focused on its primary theme that it became absolutely riveting – and I was a Bresson convert from roughly five minutes in.
In fact, Bresson is one of the few filmmakers whose complete works (as director, anyway) I’ve managed to see on the big screen: all fourteen films. And while some are certainly better than others (THE TRIAL OF JOAN OF ARC and A GENTLE CREATURE don’t do much for me, but I think the lovely FOUR NIGHTS OF A DREAMER is severely underrated, possibly because of long-term unavailability), the best achieve a level of transcendence that few other filmmakers can even dream of.
Came late in life to Bresson, but he has been well worth the wait. Have watched a dozen of his films now — though sadly, not yet a single one on a proper screen. Three or four of his films I now count as among the finest I know. But I’ve had my difficulties with him too — LANCELOT OF THE LAKE for instance.
There is a good road map from Julien Gracq, telling us why we must admire this film: “What survives of this massacre, strangely, or what surges from it new and never before seen, is what the novels of the Round Table themselves never show. Blood. Wounds. Fatigue. Mud. The brutality of the clash … And floating about the Round Table an air of rugged and ruined nobility that remains verdant despite the imminent ruin. Not the great hall with its tapestries, the cathedrals, the trumpets and the banners, but a tent the rain goes through, the hay barn, the wobbly ladder, Guinevere’s peasant room littered with straw, whose latch shakes and where the wind blows through cracks in the wall. One of the extraordinary things about the film is there, in what we don’t dare to call — since the two words protest being placed side by side — its Arthurian realism: the materialization, without any connivance with magic, almost poor in its lack of ornamentation, of a story that has never had a model or real locality, which since its birth has never had any other climate than that of myth, nor any dwelling place but the wings of imagination.”
Well, yes, but I could never get beyond the clanging distraction of all these wooden knights in their shinning armor. (And they are always in full metal jacket, even at home on otherwise quiet weekends. As they move from place to place the sound effect is like that of a plastic bag full of tin cans rolling down a stairwell.) And the abstracted battle scenes put me too much in mind of Monty Python (and to my mind, high comedy is the more rewarding treatment of the Arthurian legend). There are some fine Bresson moments and images here to be sure, but too few to carry the heavy weight of these costumes and these never-smiling characters as they plod toward their fates.
And that fate, all those mounted warriors wiped out by the archers in the trees: Is this Bresson anticipating Agincourt by several centuries?
A Bresson footnote, a conversation between John Simon and Ingmar Bergman on MOUCHETTE &tc.:
JOHN SIMON: What about Bresson? How do you feel about him?
INGMAR BERGMAN: Oh, Mouchette! I loved it, I loved it! But Balthazar was so boring, I slept through it.
JS: I liked Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne and A Man Escaped, but I would say The Diary of a Country Priest is the best one.
IB: I have seen it four or five times and could see it again… and Mouchette… really…
JS: That film doesn’t do anything for me.
IB: No? You see, now I’ll tell you something about Mouchette. It starts with a friend who sees the girl sitting and crying, and Mouchette says to the camera, how shall people go on living without me, that’s all. Then you see the main titles. The whole picture is about that. She’s a saint and she takes everything upon herself, inside her, everything that happens around her. That makes such an enormous difference that such people live among us. I don’t believe in another life, but I do think that some people are more holy than others and make life a little bit easier to endure, more bearable. And she is one, a very, very simple one, and when she has assumed the difficulties of other human beings, she drowns herself in a stream. That is my feeling, but this Balthazar, I didn’t understand a word of it, it was so completely boring.
JS: But, you could almost say the same thing about the donkey, that when the donkey has taken on other people’s suffering…
IB: A donkey, to me, is completely uninteresting, but a human being is always interesting.
JS: Do you like animals in general?
IB: No, not very much. I have a completely natural aversion for them.
“And the abstracted battle scenes put me too much in mind of Monty Python "
Certainly, the near-simultaneous release of Lancelot du Lac and Monty Python and the Holy Grail didn’t do Bresson any favours. In fact, until I started doing a bit of research, I’d assumed that the Python film was significantly influenced by Lancelot, as they seem to have so many points in common – and surely at least one of the Pythons would have made a point of seeing it beforehand?
Actually, although Lancelot premiered in 1974 and Holy Grail wasn’t released until 1975, it’s much more likely to be an unfortunate coincidence. Holy Grail was already in pre-production when Lancelot premiered (and it’s highly unlikely that any of the Python team would have been in a position to fly to Cannes for the premiere), and Lancelot didn’t actually open in Britain until many months after Holy Grail premiered. So the only way a member of the Python team could have seen Lancelot in advance of production would be if they knew Bresson personally and had been given a private screening – which I’d suggest is rather unlikely. (This was decades before the advent of DVD or even video screeners, and I doubt the Pythons had their own print struck!)
This is a response to the question “is it possible to like someone’s theory of film more than the films themselves?”. While nothing would keep one from preferring one to the other (just as one might, say, prefer Kafka’s short stories to his novels, or vice versa), the more interesting or important task – at least from an “auteurist” perspective – would be to try to understand the relation between them; the idea that unifies them, that makes each a component of a larger project. This position seems particularly relevant in regards to Bresson. It’s hard to see how one can love his film theory – structured as a series of epigraphs (with the stress placed as much on what is not said, as what is said); as the accumulation of enigmatic fragments – and not love his films, based on the same principles.
bresson is a great filmmaker, who i’m gaining more and more appreciation for as time goes on. i’m really curious to see “the devil, probably”.
I saw Lancelot only a month or so ago and loved it. I’m a huge Python fan too, and thought they must have used the same effects guys or were parodying Bresson, so similar are the effects…… but what I liked about the film was how spare and focussed it was… no pomp and circumstance. You felt that they were weighed down by issues of relationship and worth as much as chain mail.
Pickpocket is superb, and I’ve since got about half a dozen others to work through and savour….. but you have to be in the mood I find, he’s not someone you can just pick up and watch cold.
the greatest filmaker, PICKPOCKET is arguably the most austere film ever made, but also is a film that you are deeply involved in a spiritual way, a thing I love about this film is that the spiritual is very deeply inside the movie, the ending is a revelation of human soul breaking all the norms of the film itself, breaking all the stifness of the previous 73 minutes the ending obtains a dimension rarely seen in cinema, a dimension that many critics have called transcendence, It is a dimension that is beyond all rationality and thoughts. A thing that we only can “understand” or reach with our human soul. The Soul is beyond emotions and thoughts, that last sentence is like all the cinema of Robert Bresson.
actually, “pickpocket” didn’t move me very much. but i need to watch a version with english subtitles probably (dont laugh. the best of bresson’s work render titles irrelevant).
“mouchette” does it for me. it keeps growing and growing into something profound. and i love “l’argent”. can’t wait to see it again and study it more closely.
notes on the cinematographer touched me deeply. what he did for cinema is like what Artaud did for theatre, completely change how i look at it.
bresson taught me the virtue of patience, taught me how to look, to see, to hear, to think, cinema.
exaggeration perhaps, but bresson is a giant of the moving image.
note: i love the interview in which he says he found goldfinger (perhaps a diff bond, not quite sure now…) to be quite a good film. ha, wonderful.
notes on the cinematographer is one of the best books i’ve read on cinema.
“Un condamne a mort s’est echappe” is his masterpiece, IMO. It has great personal resonance from me as it saved me from a bout of depression in high school. “Le Diable Probablement,” and “Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne” are likewise great as is “Pickpocket.” While what we know of as Bresson’s style settled in circa “Diary of a Country Priest” his films were by no means uniform in tone and meaning. In fact I would argue that by the end of his career Bresson had become an atheist.
Love, Love, Love Bresson. He has to be one of the most elegant and refined directors ever. It takes a certain talent to be able to carry off such simplicity. His films move me in a way I’ve never experienced before, particularly Au Hasard Balthazar, Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne, Mouchette, and Diary of a Country Priest. And like Laura said, Balthazar, has to be one of the most heartbreaking movies ever; I cried like the proverbial baby, not to mention all the other emotions this masterpiece brought out in me.
I loved “diary of a country priest” and “pickpocket”.I wasn’t as impressed with “mouchette” and “lancelot du lac”. in the latter, I felt that his technique of using non professional actors was not very effective. No emotions were coming across and It gave me no reason to care whatsoever about the story…
I think he’s a great stylist. Rather than being style-less I think there’s a deliberate mise-en-scene which he creates. It’s definitely not for everyone. I want to say it’s more eastern-oriental than western. Ozu is like Bresson. Renoir is sometimes like Bresson. And Dreyer.
I don’t always relate to his austerity. I like him when he goes to the dark side. I liked L’Argent very much. I love The Devil Probably. It’s a film where you just feel that the characters are living. Just living onscreen. It’s the kind of movie where you want to go back and watch it again when it’s over, because it seems like it went by too quickly and now you’re really comfortable with the people in it.
Based on my extensive familiarity with Bresson, that being the first 30 minutes of Au Hasard Balthazar and the first 55 minutes of Mouchette, I’d have to say that Bresson is the kind of acquired taste that I simply can’t understand. I don’t feel any kind of obligation to like his way of making films. I see his desire to get past “artifice” as an artifice in itself. The themes of his movies are the themes that I find fascinating and enlightening when covered by other directors, but Bresson manages to make the most profound and tragic circumstances completely banal and pointless. If the goal of his directing is to make the film viewer feel as miserable and lifeless as his actors, then I would have to see that he has succeeded greatly. I really don’t understand how his films can be considered “brutally realistic”, its the use of nonactors who don’t emote in any recognizably human way, that seems completely distracting and unrealistic. If this is the way that real people act, then I must be missing out on something. Why do I care about these people? When Mouchette pouts around, a glutton for punishment, without any kind of visible humanity, its like throwing shit on a statue.
i felt exactly how you did when first introduced to bresson. exactly. i’m slowly but surely being converted.
“From the beings and things of nature, washed clean of all art and especially of the art of drama, you will make an art.” – Bresson
“Corot: ‘One must not seek, one must wait.’” – Bresson
“One does not create by adding, but by taking away. To develop is another matter. (Not to spread out.)” – Bresson