Rewatched Pickpocket yesterday.
The image of him flicking the button of a coat open is forever engrained in my skull.
My favorite, or the most memorable, by Bresson are easily A Man Escaped & Au Hazard du Balthazar.
The only other ones I’ve seen are Mouchette & L’Argent.
But you know, Bergman is just being facetious when he says that Balthasar is boring because it’s about the suffering of an animal. What about Anne Wiazemsky? It’s about her suffering as well.
my favorite director. most of his movies are masterpieces.
Bresson’s the best.
His films give me love in the most simplistic way.
Bresson is the perfect auteurist director and Notes on a Cinematographer is the perfect little guide to his work. He is the perfect antidote to Hollywood excess and rollercoaster entertainment. He pared away the inessentials and unhealthy influences and championed the film image over the theatrical and bombast. He is cinema’s great cleanser and purifier. He redid Joan of Arc and cleansed it of Dreyer’s errors and Falconetti’s appalling posturing. He cleansed the Arthurian tales of their mythical nonsense, and boy did they need it. From his small details comes a whole world of meaning. Such clarity of vision, such purity of purpose and modesty of means! And the purity- from sin to redemption- is both spiritual and stylistic! It’s all unarguable and perfect.
But isn’t there something a little arrogant and elitist going on? In his Faith, aren’t some chosen? Predestination and a loving God? Actors as models? His truth verges on mannerism. Was Bresson himself a paragon of virtue? For me, his is not the guileless simplicity of a Fran Angelico Annunciation, or of the life of St Francis. Wealthy playboy Rossellini covered that with humour and simplicity, without the self-importance and hushed holy reverence. Bresson appears perfectly humble, a hermit seeking after truth, but frame after frame (how unmistakeably Bressonian) announces difference and promotes the director. Be ’umble Uriah.
Bresson opposed the Nazis (and A Man Escaped is superb, it suits his style, yes perfectly) but isn’t there something vaguely Nazi in all the cleansing and purifying. “Washed clean” is certainly the Bresson way.
But i always come back to the same point; the fault must be not in Bresson but in me, i only need to evolve as a viewer, to be more properly discriminating and appreciative of the cinematic arts and the scales from my eyes will be lifted and the true glory that is Robert Bresson will be revealed unto me. For did not Jonathan Rosenbaum say all the most knowledgeable critics and cinephiles he’s familiar with rank Bresson highest?
Then again, imagine Bresson as the only director in the world. And now imagine Renoir or Welles.
I rewatched A Man Escaped. When I first saw it, I didn’t like it. I remember saying to a friend of mine I couldn’t feel the tension of the off-screen sound and I didn’t care much for the storybook narration. Now, I love the film; I’ve added it to my favourites and given it five stars. I loved the minimal compostion, the simple camera movements, Francois Leterrier’s simple performance: powerful, showing an actor doesn’t need to yell or break into hysterics to give a compeeling performance. The rhythmic off-screen sounds and the still camera; tense? My heart was beating like hell with every echoing repeated sound, particularly during Fontaine and Jost’s escape.
It’s the simplicity of this film that makes it powerful and truly great. I look forward to watching more Robert Bresson films.
There is currently a Bresson retrospective travelling from cinema to cinema all over the world. Here in Chicago, I have been tackling this work and have this to say:
“Well I did not expect Bresson to be this difficult to digest. It took me a while to understand if he was actually complicated or not, and now, eight films down, I think I can confidently say that he is an experimental filmmaker whose focus on ideas distracts considerably from a straightforward linear progression of events. He reminds me of Godard in this way, and bores me similarly. Masterful craftsmanship, surely, but every film has had a problematic viewing, and I’ve been struggling to understand why. I have a sneaking suspicion that as time passes the films will mean more to me in hindsight, but let’s hope that isn’t true.”
I had first watched Pickpocket, then A Man Escaped, then Au Hasard Balthazar. In the past month or so, I regret very much to have missed La Femme Douce and Mouchette, though I have access to those if I wish to watch them at home. And so far as I recently imbibed, in this order:
Les Agnes du Peche
Les Dames du Bois de Bologne
Four Nights of A Dreamer
The Devil, Probably
And my subjective ranking of his yet-seen work is as such:
Au hasard Balthazar
A Man Escaped
The Devil, Probably
Four Nights of a Dreamer
Les Dames du Bois de Bologne
Les Anges du Péché
In the next few days I will round out my Bresson education with Lancelot du Lac and Diary of a Country Priest (finally) – both of which I feel very fortunate to be able to see in the theater.
It is no surprise to me that Haneke lists Bresson in his favorite all-time 10 – I sense a kinship [of perspective] between them, though Haneke is infinitely more brutal and misanthropic. I will say that while watching each filmmaker, it took me a considerable number of viewings to fully register “exactly what the hell he points his camera at.”
And finally, part of the reason I’m posting this is because I sense that my conscious appreciation is lacking somehow – that there is a subconscious effect I am failing to appreciate. Could it be a lack of faith?
I think you’re too fixated on a “straightforward linear progression of events”. If you want to read Bresson as an experimental filmmaker, which you seem to do, then why not abandon that crutch? In other words: give yourself over to the films.
I’ve only seen Diary of a Country Priest, which was one of the most unpleasant moviegoing experiences I’ve ever had, and Pickpocket, which was one of the more pleasant, so… yeah
I love Balthazar and L’Argent. Hate The devil probably because it could have been a lot better.
I agree on the former. It was my first Bresson. I watched it at LACMA. I kept falling asleep and the film was like a waking nightmare that just wouldn’t end. I still have yet to revisit that film. Hopefully I will soon and see how my “enlightened” Bressonian eyes adjust to it.
You hate The Devil Probably because it could’ve been a lot better. I will admit that is candor I have not heard before.
I agree about “giving yourself over”. It seems like people worry about accepting something so singular as if everything else must be wrong. As if it’s a choice between Bresson and everybody else. But you need to meet him halfway. Otherwise it’s unfair to him. Would you deny a possibly life-changing experience in favor of a cinephilia of quantity? This sort of happened to me; my cinephilia was slightly eclipsed by my Bressonophilia. But I don’t care, I wouldn’t have done it differently. Cinephilia is not an end in itself.
If one filmmaker was infinitely better than all others we’d all be afraid of heightening our standards to an incredibly excluding narrowness(?). I have stupid standards now.
Bresson is filmmaker’s filmmaker.
Love Bresson and am writing reviews on all his films. They are all quite detailed and can be seen on my blog: http://aestheticsofthemind.wordpress.com/
So far there are reviews on Bresson himself, Pickpocket, Joan of Arc, Devil Probably, Une Femme Douce, Four Nights of A Dreamer and Diary of A Country Priest.
Here’s one of the reviews, to spark interest. The latest one.
Diary of A Country Priest:
A performance of austerity on the subject of austerity. A filmmaker practices austerity to create art; a priest (Claude Laydu) practices austerity to instill faith: both seek to fluorish growth amidst the people. The ascetic habits and characteristics of the Priest are at once reflected in the ascetic filmmaking and, by extension, Robert Bresson himself. Diary of A Country Priest, in all its simplicity and tenderness, may be the finest expression of Robert Bresson’s spiritual self.
In the film Directed By Andrei Tarkovsky, the legendary Russian filmmaker states that there’s a certain lightness to Bresson’s films — that they exist in their own world. I couldn’t agree more. Elements are stripped away, and time is slowed down so that one may appreciate reality more acutely; it’s as if one was given some kind of phenomenal focal lens with which to peer at reality itself, allowing one to slow things down and dignify them.
This, in itself, is the goal of the ascetic. From Buddhist ascetics in India to Taoist ascetics in China to Christian ascetics in the European countryside, asceticism is the practice of austerity in order to enrichen the mind. One denies oneself but only of the basics, enough to subsist; the Buddha, Siddartha Gautama would eat a single seed per day. The idea at hand is that to deny oneself of worldly pleasures, one denies oneself of desire — attachment. While the body experiences suffering, the mind is at rest and may see things more clearly. One becomes more observant, perceptive, and attuned with reality.
While the priest of our story struggles, he is a true ascetic. He denies his body of the nutrition it needs, and sees with an open mind. However, his kindness prevents him from true austerity; he feels attached to the lives of the family he seeks to help. It is not until his final moment that he realizes: “What does it all matter. All is grace”.
Reflecting the nature of the priest, the filmmaking is done in a similar vain. In regards to both cinematography — how the film is shot — and mise-en-scène — what is shot, Bresson films like an ascetic, showing only the essentials, in order that his films do not express a sense of attachment. Diary of A Country Priest attains this goal completely; the powerful lightness of its simplicity and austerity is extraordinary, even for Bresson.
The most common thing that people first appreciate of Bresson’s films is the lack of emotion of the on-screen characters; this may mistakenly lend itself to a sense of coldness which may put off the viewer. With Diary of A Country Priest, one may do best in telling of Bresson’s true aim here.
All facial expressions are, to varying degrees, an expression of one’s personal thoughts. Thoughts which arise from the ego. Thoughts about whether they find something funny, scary, disturbing etc.. Facial expressions may be read. You see a person’s facial expression and you can feel what they are thinking, and all conscious thoughts exist in the home of the ego.
So, by not having emotional expressions, Bresson resists the need to egotize the characters. They don’t exactly show whether they are happy, or scared, or sad, etc.; instead, Bresson uses blank stares that may be universally appropriated. This opens up spiritual doors, since the characters are not defined by overemphasized emotions, and the viewers do not feel a sense of attachment. The simplicity and austerity renders a sense of detachment, what is necessary for spiritual discovery. Bresson is practically forcing you to be an ascetic for a couple hours — to transcend reality and come back with the experience.
While black-and-white automatically makes a film more austere than a colour counterpart, Bresson films Diary of A Country Priest with a certain darkness that speaks to a kind of void or permanence. The black robes of the parish, the low-key lighting and ominous shadows, and night-time darkness: these things replete the film with a sense of death and spirituality. For example, when Chantal (Nicole Ladmiral) is in confession, all one can see is her face — it’s pitch black around her; this minimalist tendency makes her expression that much more powerful. The despair and desperation in her eyes and voice pierce the soul.
Much like how some may resist Bresson’s austere filmmaking, the people of Ambricourt resist the priest. The count (Jean Rivyere) is especially recalcitrant. They don’t understand his asceticism, it it is alien to them, and their obstinacy prevents them from accepting him. In much the same way, some audiences will be put off by Bresson; however, as the countess realizes before her death, opening herself up to the possibility of freedom imparted by the priests austerity took her somewhere she never thought possible. Should the chance be given, Bresson’s films have this same power.
Read more reviews: http://aestheticsofthemind.wordpress.com/
Bresson is a filmmaker with a unique vision and a beautiful approach to reality by using all that is real, rather than anything decorative or any trained actors. At the same time, I struggle over whether I think the experience of his art is really worth it or simply draining me of life that I prefer to smear his work. I’ve only seen five of his films (Man Escaped, Pickpocket, Au Hasard Balthazar, Mouchette, and L’argent) and I had mixed feelings to all of them.
I was first entranced by A Man Escaped and I think it keep me focused the whole time because it followed a definite story that was leading to a end, so I was stuck with it to see how it would be resolved. Pickpocket I got lost on because I felt lack of any real interest or sympathy for the main character, especially in how empty he is of any real expression as all of the non-actors are, especially his girlfriend who never expresses or reacts to what he’s done. I grew frustrated with the expressionless because it made them look like empty shells and less like humans; it’s hard to look at people everyday and not notice some kind of reaction or feeling that stirs inside of them, unless they’re really bored.
Now Balthazar really pushed my buttons the hardest because I grew tense with how it’s very fragmented in its plot, jumping from one character to another and one situation to another. The expressionless once again irked me because the characters continue to do things without reason or explanation or emotion like they’re not even human. Gerard is just an evil sadist who keeps hurting people and abusing poor Balthazar and nobody picks a fight with him or tries to make him stop, least of all Marie who just lets him do whatever he will. The more he remained so evil for the entire film made it hard for me to sit through and look at him, wishing that he would just die and he never did. The more pathetic the other characters behaved, without emoting or explaining anything made it hard to know how to sympathize with them, even when terrible things happen and they do nothing but play the victim. In the end, only Balthazar is worth any real sympathy and his pain at the hands of others makes him very saint-like, but at the same time, he’s nothing but a victim and to call an animal a saint is to make them sound heroic, when all he can do is suffer and let Gerard get away with his evil deeds without punishment. He should have kicked the son of a bitch in the pain. The more it focused on just constant long suffering and empty blank faces around the suffering with no motive, reaction, or action made me angrier with putting up with it that any spiritual enlightenment Bresson wanted to impose on me wasn’t going to work. I just spent the whole time watching terrible things happen and people doing nothing or reacting to anything that he was robbing the film of any real humanity.
Ironically, Mouchette had a different impact on me despite how it concerned another story of a victim, only this time it held my attention more because it was a human girl instead of a donkey. With this girl, I was pleased that for once, she was the only character out of the Bresson films I had seen who would ever express herself, such as the smiling in the bumper cars and the crying, and I liked her resourcefulness that showed she wasn’t just an innocent victim, but made it clear that she resented the community that had been mistreating her. Even though she can’t stop people from hurting her, such as the parental abuse, the school humiliation, and the rape, she still comes out resourceful and her decision at the very end is a very brave and active one to resolve the pain she’s been through.
Finally, L’argent really arose a number of reactions that made me feel that a real message was being sent to me. Although it has the same multi-layered plot as Balthazar, the themes it keeps focus on are the evils of greed and the danger of revenge. It made me think different of the protagonist in many ways, first feeling sorry for him then hoping for his revenge then questioning what he did in the end. He was paying the price for everything instead of the corrupt and manipulative forces that put him in the mess in the first place, but he wasn’t entirely saint-like or entirely satanic, he was just a flawed human being who had a number of reasons to do what he did and had to pay in the end. That kept me intrigued by the film’s message and it reminds me of how capable any human finds himself of doing positive or negative deeds when the right – or the wrong – circumstances come to push him into that position. I could blame society or blame him for all that happened, but it kept the discussions and contradictions about the film active. I especially think it looked nicely done in color with its naturalism in the cinematography that I felt the mise-en-scene really worked for the final film of Bresson’s career.
Out of all these films, I would say Mouchette or L’argent are my favorites, although Bresson’s films generally still leave me a lot to think about, which makes it hard to say if I like him or hate him. The emptiness in human performance does irritate me as I see it as him making models or painting out of every person rather than let them be alive in what they feel and think. Of course, I read that he hated drama and called it a “bastard art”, which makes him sound very God-fearing and unappreciative of the freedom we should have to express ourselves. Instead, he just wants us to look like empty shells and leave the audience to put their own emotions on these people, which makes his films get away with telling a story in the form of a painting and inspires filmmakers to keep a deep concentration on the craft of filmmaking. On that note, his approach to make art out of film is inspirational and cerebral in making the craft more appreciated and his messages can spark discussions out of audiences, but it’s troubling to understand why should humanity appear so blank and soulless that we can’t understand them in the way we try to understand one another on a daily basis through some honesty and openness.
I don’t trust anyone who does not appreciate Bresson. He is not easy to get into for most people, because we’re all conditioned by pure shit. But to dismiss him or think he is “bad” is like saying that you hate Bach. He is simply amazing. Not just as a filmmaker, but as an artist.
There are other great geniuses in the cinema, but no one really comes close to matching Bresson in terms of overcoming himself- that is, developing an aesthetic IN SPITE of all of his impulses and flights of fancy. That phrase “Kill your darlings”- Bresson not only killed his darlings, he killed the friends of his darlings. Bresson would not even compromise with HIMSELF.
And the end product is not some lifeless formalism either. I love Au Hasard Balthazar, A Man Escaped and Pickpocket. But if I had to teach a film class using only one film, I would choose L’Argent- his last film from 1983.
L’Argent is a perfect film. PERFECT. The ending is beyond cinema. It makes me incredibly sad to realize I will never ever come close to make film with even 1/4 the greatness of that film.
So yes, Bresson is great.