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Archive for January 29th, 2009

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by Sam Juliano

Frenchman Robert Bresson (1901-1999) is one of the greatest film directors of all-time, yet his output, considering both the advanced age he achieved and his active years was relatively limited.  Meticulous and uncompromising, Bresson was idiosyncratic, disavowing conventional notions of cinema and popular subjects, in favor of personal issues and themes.  Indeed, despite his astonishing range of subject matter, there are perhaps no films more unified or deeply marked by their director’s personality, which in his instance was marked by three major influences: the Catholic church (which manifested itself into the fabric of three of his films: his first Les Anges du Péché, about an order of nuns, his next, Le Journal Un Cure de campagne, which concerned a priest who lost his parishioners and his faith, and Le Procès de Jeanne d’Arc, which dealt with the defining aspect of the heroic religious icon; his early years as a painter, which made their indellible mark on his compositions; and his time as a prisoner-of-war.  Hence, the concurrent themes of free-will vs. determinism, which is integrated into the secular works, the famed austerity that informs his painstaking cinematic canvases, and the various prison motifs and themes, which are fully examined in the two films he shot in prisons.     

Les Anges du Péché (1943) is Bresson’s first feature film, which is a far more conventional film than his later works, as it is talkier and far less reliant on filmic rhetoric, including ‘elliptical editing.’  The film, along with the director’s sophomore effort, Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne, stands apart from all the subsequent films in that it employs professional actors, who offer more expressive performances than the sullen and seemingly detached (though of course purposeful) amateurs of his later masterpieces.  The use of real actors troubled Bresson, who purportedly cautioned himself against drawing “tears from the public with the tears of your models” instead of what he alluded to as naturalistic settings and characters who are “exactly in their place.”  Still be admitted he was thrilled with the actual performances in the film.      (more…)

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