Republic of Grogandia. The stuttering broadcaster and the silent soprano in her booth.
The Kingdom of Miremia. The king’s daughter flying over.
Fellini’s band, the Folies Bergères, Keaton, Chaplin.
The soprano liberated.
Frankenheimer has the ship-christening gag as newsreel footage of Eleanor Roosevelt in The Extraordinary Seaman.
Ozu was at this time a great and knowledgeable fan of American slapstick as well.
A very precise and wonderful film of entre les deux guerres.
Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne
After the fall of France and the Liberation, this tale of a disaffected lover maneuvered by his former mistress into marriage with a tart.
Twenty years later, when it finally screened in New York, Crowther couldn’t see the point of it.
Journal d’un Curé de Campagne
Life of Keats. Moulin Rouge treatment. Père, mère, la femme. Pan-and-tilt to frame the picture (one advancing Russell to a new plane), dolly-in for emphasis (once out). The dramatic representation face à, intense as anything (Cocteau would be good). Maître et disciple. The self encountered (as in Love Streams).
Two structural points: the dietary problem and the abbé (stretto). The former, waffled? “We did our best to take the mickey out of it,” said Welles of Rosebud. The latter, a purely economical evaluation of earthly vanity in a vocation (set up earlier as “total sacrifice”), i.e., the commercial enterprise?
The first as given, the second as metaphorical, and preparing the crucifix (final image) as reconciliation of opposites. With The Cardinal, an imaginable subsistence.
The central idea is “the kingdom of God is yours and his,” a sufficient idea.
Un Condamné à Mort S’est Échappé, ou Le Vent Souffle Où Il Veut
There is nothing to this but the escape, and that is all you need, of course. It just grinds on, at one with the projector, developing its way out. Compare René Char: “Poetry will always be first and foremost an escape, jail broken and the assurance that this escape in long and deadly strides has succeeded.”
The influence on Sturges and Siegel (cp. Grosbard) is very profound. The major homage is to Renoir.
An artiste of crime, who trains himself for the nervous deed (evidently inspired by Pickup on South Street), acquires further skills not his own, lives in a garret exactly like a jail cell, misses out on life and finally comes to it in a surprising conversion that he will recant like Joan in Bresson’s next film (his last has very much the same sort of style, in color, and concerns itself with a counterfeiter like Nabokov’s ”Leonardo”).
And it is only hard luck or carelessness that nicks him, he’s at Longchamps with an undercover policeman who shows him a breast pocket full of winnings like Valéry’s “temps d’un sein nu”, poets and pickpockets are of a class in Valéry’s understanding, with gypsies and prostitutes and actors, parasites.
Procés de Jeanne d’Arc
The bitter distillate of Dreyer’s Passion, all done up to revere the essential questions above all, how came it that the central leader of French armies at the time was a slight girl who spoke with saints and angels and God, what did the English make of this, to say nothing of the Paris university men, the Church and so forth.
Bresson’s amazement is not couched in medievalism, the scene is laid in accurate raiments but played for the present sense of the words, and very briskly. The suggestion is of something got through rather hurriedly, and indeed the English are often heard shouting “burn the witch” at the most unusual of all the witch trials. The drama is evaporated for the actual drama of the event as noted down, Bresson takes notice of it as plainly as possible, and that includes the doves that fly around the village square at the end of Dreyer’s film, here a small few taking flight from a roofbeam. The charred stake remains as evidence of an epiphany rather than an apotheosis, and perhaps more like a disappearing act than anything.
But indeed Bresson knows the case, he has seen it happen, the mother begins the film with an intelligent, thoughtful rendering of accounts read out after the event, envious people who wished no good to France or the Church brought false charges and burned the girl, Bresson’s modern sensibility cannot be deceived in that.
Au hasard Balthazar
Alfred Hitchcock wouldn’t sit through Autumn Sonata by Ingmar Bergman, who couldn’t stay awake during Au hasard Balthazar by Robert Bresson, who didn’t think cinema on the whole was anything but “a theatrical bastard”.
After L’Argent, Bresson (like Welles) was unable to obtain funding, and so his film of Genesis was never made, although we can dimly conceive its shape if we bear in mind that Au hasard Balthazar was originally envisioned as a depiction of the Biblical ass from Abraham’s to Jesus’, according to Richard Roud, who says Bresson told him this in the autumn of 1962.
Bresson has his ass, a self-portrait if you but will, a humble servant of the Lord. Against this is placed the story of pride punished with such definitive inexorability as to efface not only whatever mickey remains in the construction, but Balthazar himself.
Roud adds the further information that Balthazar, in addition to being the name of a Magus, is also the French spelling of Belshazzar. The film is an expression of Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” Bresson actually films this, as Arnold, the drunken alter ego of Marie’s prideful father, falls off Balthazar and dies in the road.
Just between the ass Balthazar and Une Femme douce, Bresson’s magnificat in honor of a wee villageoise who comes to the end of her childhood and determinedly rolls herself downhill to the stream.
This is considered tragic, by some. The roast is larded so thick as to leave some possibility of doubt.
The poor slip of a girl has no more understanding than an animal, and yet the comedy of rascals and bootleggers, a gamekeeper and a poacher, plays all around her in some kind of earnest. She has the loveliness of youth, a most promising heroine. Adulthood claims her, the comedy is dismissed.
Une Femme douce
From Dostoevsky, who has the original of Humbert’s line. “It was true, of course, that she had nowhere else to go...” (Magarshack).
Van Gogh’s life is curiously reflected in Bresson’s transposition, and a sort of personification of la Sagesse, finally a Chinese poetry, politique de chinoiserie.
Dostoevsky’s absconded duel is enacted onstage as Hamlet, after which the lady in question checks her French text and finds that indeed the speech to the players was omitted, “so they could mouth.”
The film at the Paramount Élysées, is it Aurel’s Lamiel?
And the same material is at work in Les Anges du péché.
quatre nuits d’un rêveur
Bresson’s hilarious sendup of young lovers, quasi-artistic types and so on, genuinely touching amid the guffaws.
Bossa nova on the bateau-mouche under the bridge, later a houseboat going the other way.
The young man paints stained-glass portraits of faceless girls, a colleague speaks of the end, neither subject nor object.
The young woman takes off with the boarder on his Yale fellowship, no, he will return in a year’s time (Lang’s Fury).
The two meet and have a putative romance.
Lancelot du Lac
“God is not a trophy.”
Perceval is lost, Lancelot has seen the Holy Grail, he vows to leave Guinevere.
“Burning and pillaging” has cost them the prize.
He forgoes her presence to joust with his taunters, who wound him.
He returns, bloodied, to rescue Guinevere and sustain a ten-year siege, if need be. She returns to Arthur.
Mordred lays claim to the supremacy, the Knights defend the king.
Archers shooting from trees leave a pile of men in armor, the last dies with Guinevere’s name on his lips.
Le Diable probablement
A case of murder vaguely solved in the babbling title.
The exceptionally fine vertical structure absolves lateral immobility, in a way, but the mystifications practiced upon the victim are not the fruit of wisdom. Critics have generally refused to understand the mechanism, Canby speaks of “an intellectual choice.”
But there is simply no action possible in a milieu defined practically along the lines of Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point and Huston’s Wise Blood. The evils of modern life pour out upon the screen like the bean commercial in Russell’s Tommy, the Garden of Eden has a No Swimming sign because of cadmium pollution, a satire of the book industry bespeaks a certain futility.
Action is lost to the blind greed of the drug addict and hireling identified with the antique Roman.
Two strands, the moneyed elite as kid counterfeiters and strategists of financial crime, contrariwise the poor shlub who has to pay, he is their innocent victim.
All the resources that Bresson has to offer are called into play, in this most elegant and forceful of his compositions, based on Tolstoy.