Bresson and Others: Spiritual Style in the Cinema
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A number of writers have attempted to capture Robert Bresson's style as well as his substance with such terms as 'minimalist', 'austere', 'ascetic', 'elliptical', 'autonomous', 'pure', even 'gentle'. Most famously, Paul Schrader once called Bresson's films 'transcendental', while Susan Sontag described them as 'spiritual'. Both these critics thus extended in anglicized form a tendency that had early been dominant in Bresson criticism in France: the attempt, made by such Catholic writers as Andre Bazin, Henri Agel, Roger Leenhardt, and Amedee Ayfre, to understand Bresson's work in religious terms, seeing his camera as a kind of god and the material world as (paradoxically) a thing of the spirit. That attempt, in Sontag's essay, led to the introduction of Bresson to the New York-based avant-garde of the 1960s and 1970s, whose films - such as Richard Serra's 'Hand Catching Lead' (1968), for one - show the influence of the French director's severe, reductivist style. Jean-Luc Godard, of course, needed no such critical introduction to Robert Bresson, for, in his iconoclasm and integrity, in his rejection of the Gallic 'Cinema du Papa' as well as in his embrace of film as an independent art, Bresson was one of the heroes of the young directors who constituted the French New Wave in the early 1960s. So much so that Godard was moved to say in Cahiers du cinema in 1957 that 'Bresson is French cinema, as Dostoyevsky is the Russian novel and Mozart is German music'. The result is that Bresson has undeniably influenced a slew of contemporary European filmmakers, including Chantal Akerman, Olivier Assayas, Laurent Cantet, Alain Cavalier, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Claire Denis, Jacques Doillon, Bruno Dumont, Michael Haneke, Benoit Jacquot, and Maurice Pialat - not to speak of his influence on Asian and American cinema. 'Bresson and Others: Spiritual Syle in the Cinema'; is an attempt to document this influence through essays on fifteen international directors who followed in Bresson's wake, who in fact may have influenced him (Carl Dreyer), or who contemporaneously worked veins similar to those found in Bresson's films ('Ingmar Bergman', 'Yasujiro Ozu'). These essays are preceded by an introduction to the cinema of Robert Bresson and followed by film credits, a bibliography of criticism, and an index. The subject of Bresson and Others, then, may specifically be Bressonian cinema, but, in a general sense, it could also be said to be spirit and matter - or film and faith.
frightened by his miraculous knowledge of her deeds, despite—or perhaps because of—the following assurance from Donissan: “You are not guilty before God . . . You are like a plaything, like a child’s toy ball, in the hands of Satan.” Like Satan’s toy she is, too, when she returns home to her parents and commits suicide by cutting her throat. Donissan had believed, correctly, that his ability to read human souls was a gift from God. What he learns is that in God there is Satan, and in Satan there
evidenced by fılms like Heaven Over the Marshes (1949), God Needs Men (1950), The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964), and Thérèse (1986). (As for the thing-in-itself, good Protestant cinema, you 62 On Loach’s Raining Stones and Rohmer’s A Tale of Winter have Bergman’s “faith” trilogy and the picture of his that directly preceded it, The Virgin Spring .) The fundamental requirement of an authentic spiritual style, then, is that it be grounded in naturalistic simplicity, even
shots, each one fairly “flat,” with the opening shot as likely to be of a foot or an object as it is of a face or an entire body. Camera movement is kept to a minimum, for—to repeat—the camera shows only what is important and nothing more. “Painting taught me that one should not make beautiful images, but rather necessary images,” Bresson told one interviewer. Necessary words, as well, for dialogue in his films is extremely limited, and the performers, though they may bear features of a
dreams over to the States and began exporting their “reality”: Survivor, the granddaddy of reality television, came to American shores from England in 2000, while Big Brother and Fear Factor came over from Holland and Germany, respectively, around the same time. Or maybe these are new kinds of dreams. As the cultural editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit put it, “People are missing the real life in their lives.” But hasn’t that always been the case? Medieval artists and artisans, after all,
Weyergens (nurse) Mouchette, 1967 Co-producers: Argos Films and Pare Film Screenplay: Robert Bresson (adapted from Nouvelle histoire de Mouchette, by Georges Bernanos) Cinematography: (black-and-white) Ghislain Croquet Art director: Pierre Guffroy Sound: Séverin Frankiel and Jacques Carrère Music: Claudio Monteverdi, Jean Wiener Editor: Raymond Lamy Running time: 82 minutes Cast: Nadine Nortier (Mouchette); Jean-Claude Guilbert (Arsène); Paul Hébert (the father); Marie Cardinal (the mother); Jean