Robert Bresson’s mesmerizing final film, based on the Leo Tolstoy short story, won him Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival, and details the tragic chain of events following the passing of a forged banknote by two school-boys.
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In his last film, Bresson, via Tolstoy, is our acerbic escort and tour-guide from the devil to the deep cheap aisles of plenty, nailing as he goes both the particularly pinched nexus of easy cash and awol ethics of the recessionary early '80s and the more enduring insidiousness of our implacably transactional nature. "Ou est l'argent?!" No matter, no man can find the money; idle hands, come join the trompe le monde.
As political commentary, the film very subtly communicates the ironies of criminality; that those who initiated the chain of events receive little to no punishment, while those on the bottom rung are forced to suffer a genuine humiliation. More than anything, Bresson's masterpiece embodies the quote from Godard's character Uncle Jeannot in First Name, Carmen; "when shit's worth money, the poor won't have arseholes."
Trends do not shape all art forms and life stances simultaneously. That’s what I felt while watching L’Argent yesterday among a slightly tipsy audience that could not repress chuckling at a few too-deadpan-to-be-missed moments which diminished my trust that L’Argent was as as sharp and aging genes-deficient as Persona, yet still unmistakably good: I felt that Toulmin’s study about Wittgenstein’s Vienna perhaps lacked
14 down, 0 to go. The end of my Bressonathon, and it finishes in typically spare, minimalist style. One of my favourite late Bressons, one that succeeds in balancing honesty with realism. Money rules the world, here doors are constantly opening and closing, money is always being exchanged, the liars get off free and the good men are turned bad. 4/5
I always love it when a director that I admire and respect goes out with a bang. Mizoguchi, Kubrick, Tarkovsky and Ozu all come to mind. And Bresson most certainly joins that group with his last film, L'argent. It feels like the director is in such control over his subject matter, the story is told with absolute confidence in the ability of the audience having the patience to stick with it and ponder the meaning.
It is clear that Bresson shaped his adaptation to reveal his bleaker, more unapologetic views on the modern world, it also happens to contain some genuinely thrilling scenes - quite unusual from someone who admired and prevailed essence or "minimalism" - that seem to underline a scathing commentary. This is a devastating final feature.