TIFF BELL Lightbox - Robert Bresson

04 Feb 2012

Weekend Box Office

The Films of Robert Bresson (FEB 9th - March 30th)

Complete Schedule:


TIFF Cinematheque curates the first full retrospective in fourteen years of the films of the most revered postwar French director, whose rigorously beautiful tales of spiritual struggle and transcendence have exerted a tremendous influence on the last half-century of world cinema.

Bresson was known as a director for his spiritual style.  His catholic upbringing affected his films which always included the themes of religion, salvation and redemption.  He also fought in the French Resistance against the Nazis and was imprisoned in a Prisoner-of-War camp.
Bresson’s early artistic films (L’ARGENT and LANCELOT DU LAC) separated the language of cinema from the theatre, which often heavily involves the actor’s performance to drive the work. With his ‘actor-model’ technique, Bresson’s actors were required to repeat multiple takes of each scene until all semblances of ‘performance’ were stripped away, leaving a stark effect that registers as both subtle and raw, and one that can only be found in the cinema.  Bresson’s films (L’ARGENT and LES ANGES DU PECHES) can also be understood as critiques of French society and the wider world, with each revealing the director’s sympathetic if unsentimental view on its victims.

Bresson was awarded a life achievement career Golden Lion in 1989 at the Venice Film Festival.
Below are capsule reviews of 4 of the Bresson films, screeners provided courtesy of TIFF Cinematheque.


LES ANGES DU PECHES (France 1943) ****
Directed by Robert Bresson
A gruelling but effective film on the difficulty of obtaining redemption as well as the cost that goes with it.  The film is set in a Dominican nun convent specialising in rehabilitating female prisoners bringing them redemption and closeness to God.  But it is not an easy process and the convent rules are strict and unforgiving.  The story centres on a rich young Anne-Marie (Renee Faure) who thinks she has found her vocation when she joins a Dominican convent as a novice.  Anne-Marie becomes especially fascinated with Therese (Jany Holt), trying to get her to join the convent to redeem her for her sins - but Therese protests her innocence.  However, when released, Therese shoots the man who committed the crime for which she was imprisoned, then joins the convent, where she is reluctant to tell anyone her secret, least of all Anne-Marie. Meanwhile, outside the convent, a police search is widening and they eventually determine from clues that the murder is one of revenge with Therese responsible.  They enter the convent to search for her.  Bresson’s film documents the daily routine of the convent down to the beliefs and thought of the nuns.  What concurs is totally believable with the audience understanding how faith works.  LES ANGES DU PCHES is a powerful film about faith, redemption and the goodness of those who believe.

L’ARGENT (France/Switzerland 1983) ***** Top 10
Directed by Robert Bresson
Absolutely mind blowing film because of the director’s assured craft despite the film’s simple effortless look!  L’ARGENT, based on Tolstoy’s story “The Forged Coupon” is a psychological drama about an honest man, Yvon (Christian Patey) who receives counterfeit notes as payment.  He spends it at a restaurant resulting in him being arrested.  Things spiral out of control for the worse with him earning more jail time as a result.  His wife leaves him and his daughter dies while he is doing time.  Bresson’s film is not a film about the man’s redemption but the opposite – how life defeats him.  Thus it is hard to describe Bresson’s film in terms of message or social context except for maybe his intent of showing the inherent imperfection of both the judicial system or unpredictability of human nature.  Though the film encompasses adult themes, most of Bresson’s characters are youth at heart.  The film begins with a school kid asking his parents for money leading him to use a counterfeit note.  Yvon himself is hardly 20 years of age and his wife is just as young.  Still, L’ARGENT is both a compelling and moving film from start to finish.  Bresson’s film contains much more use of the camera than his actors.  The passing of objects, the activities and sound of movement play a very important part of telling his story.  ARGENT is Bresson’s final film and won the director TIFF Cinematheque curates the first full retrospective in fourteen years of the films of the most revered postwar French director, whose rigorously beautiful tales of spiritual struggle and transcendence have exerted a tremendous influence on the last half-century of world cinema.

LANCELOT DU LAC (France/Italy 1974) ***1/2
Directed by Robert Bresson
Likely the grimmest of all the Knights of the Round Table films made or will ever be made.  Bresson keeps to his style of using non-professional actors who best just speak their lines and not act in his film.  As in his other films, LANCELOT DU LAC works from objects being moved, incidents happening and the use of sound.  Naturally the film turns out bleak and not as entertaining as any other similar film, say CAMELOT or KING ARTHUR, which is the purpose of Bresson.  The film is set in the identical medieval times but when things at Arthur’s court are starting to fall apart.  The knights plunder, kill and fight among themselves.  They are sent by Merlin to seek the holy Grail but the knights return after two years of failure.  At this time, Lancelot (Luc Simon) is secretly having an affair with the Queen (Laura Duke Condominas).  So, there is nothing grand or glamorous about anything.  In fact the film begins with lots of knights killed with blood spurting out of severed heads and wounded bodies.  There is also a shot of an arrow plunged into the head of a dying horse.  Still this uncompromising film won the FIPRESCI Prize at the 1974 Cannes Festival du Film where it made its debut.

A MAN ESCAPED (France 1956) ****
Directed by Robert Bresson
At the start of the film, the titles inform that this film of an escape is shot without any adornment.  This is true as the viewing is a gruelling one with no sentiment or padding. The film not only documents a man’s obsession and execution of his escape but the conditions and the psychological effects of him and other prisoners in the prison camp.  A MAN ESCAPED or Un condamné à mort s’est échappé is based on the memoirs of a Prisoner of War held at Fort Montluc during World War II.  The man in concern is Fontaine (Francois Leterrier), a member of the French Resistance.  Fontaine tries to escape once from the car carrying him to the prison.  He is beaten and forced to promise not to escape again.  He lies and starts planning immediately his next escape.  The film depicts the difficulty of exercising such an attempt but only shows the resilience of man.  The planning of the escape comes across as more intriguing that the actual escape.  Of course, new obstacles get in the way of Fontaine, but he never gives up.  The other prisoners like the pastor (Roland Monod), Orsien (Jacques Erttaud) who is shot after an unsuccessful escape attempt and Fontaines new cell mate, Jost (Charles Le Clainche) add interest to the proceedings.  Of course, Fontaine does successfully escape, as the title of the film indicates.  It is not surprising that Bresson made this film as he himself was a French Resistance prisoner during World War II.

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