Robert Bresson: A Passion for Film
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Perhaps the most highly regarded French filmmaker after Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson created a new kind of cinema through meticulous refinement of the form's grammatical and expressive possibilities. In thirteen features over a forty-year career, he held to an uncompromising moral vision and aesthetic rigor that remain unmatched. Robert Bresson: A Passion for Film is the first comprehensive study to give equal attention to the films, their literary sources, and psycho-biographical aspects of the work. Concentrating on the films' cinematographic, imagistic, narrative, and thematic structures, Pipolo provides a nuanced analysis of each film-including nearly 100 illustrations-elucidating Bresson's unique style as it evolved from the impassioned Les Anges du péche to such disconsolate meditations on the world as The Devil Probably and L'Argent. Special attention is also given to psychosexual aspects of the films that are usually neglected. Bresson has long needed a thoroughgoing treatment by a critic worthy to the task: he gets it here. From it emerges a provocative portrait of an extraordinary artist whose moral engagement and devotion to the craft of filmmaking are without equal.
omniscient God. The tracking shot that leads her to the stake separates the formality of the language-driven trial scenes from the ﬁnal twenty-ﬁve shots, two of which contain Joan’s last words reafﬁrming the truth of her voices. The change in tenor is introduced by a single shot of a dog that seems to have wandered onto the path just traveled by Joan. It walks tentatively forward, looks up and off screen, presumably at Joan being chained and tied to the stake, and then turns away, its presence
men are handcuffed and Fontaine not, it is clear from Fontaine’s stealthy moves that all are prisoners. The ﬁrst thing we see, then, the palms-up gesture, is clearly signatory: it “speaks” the state of being unrestrained and therefore bound to act: that is, as long as one’s hands are free, one is obliged to use them. Moments later Fontaine tries to escape, following an assessment of the situation in nearly two dozen shots. Nine medium close-ups of his face show his alertness in response to two
can be to documenting the events and circumstances of Joan’s trial, it afﬁrms that she continues to elude us as effectively as she did her judges. Reaching for the hidden interior in an art form enchained to the exterior is the challenge Bresson made the crux of his aesthetic since Les Anges du péché. By adhering to Joan’s words, as recorded in the Trial of Condemnation, and her outward demeanor, as described by witnesses at the Trial of Rehabilitation, his ﬁlm is a testimony to the rule of the
questions and answers overlap the cut, so that one or the other might begin over an image of Joan or one of the judges and continue through the cut to the next shot. This variation tends to thwart efforts to look for patterns that might be read metaphorically and so sustains a neutral 164 RO B E RT B R E S S O N quality suited to the shifting rhythms of trial procedure. Because of the insistent nature of shot-countershot controlled by questions and answers, what the practice demonstrates,
garments she had agreed to wear so that she would be forced to resume male clothing and incur retribution. Nevertheless when Cauchon asked her why, “she made no excuse.”33 Bresson’s ellipsis mirrors this position, cutting through the many reasons to the heart of the matter. He presents only the recorded evidence of what Joan said to the bishop; in addition to a threat of attack by a soldier when she was in female dress, she says that she betrayed her voices when she recanted. Bresson’s minimalism