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Robert Bressen passed away in 1999, at the age of 98. For more than four decades, he had managed to make thirteen pictures, resulting in a body of work unequaled in aesthetic consistency and the intensity of his own vision (Kinema). However, Bresson's influence to modern cinema has only recently been recognized. As a result, there are very few details about him or the events in his personal life. In certain circumstances, the information provided about him is ambiguous. Bresson utilizes jail life as a symbol of spiritual incarceration and release in A Man Has Escaped.This is evidenced in his film, Pickpocket, where Michel is redeemed from crime through intentional arrest. Bresson’s three films, Angels of the Street, Diary of a Country Priest, and Proces de Jeanne d’Arc are majorly Catholic. Film studies have the tendency to affix facile labels of ‘catholic’, ‘spiritual’ or ‘Jansenist’ to Bresson’s filmmaking work without considering the implications of that kind of pigeonholing (Hudson). In order to understand more of Bresson’s work, we have to look at three films, A Man Escaped, Mouchette, and Au hazard Balthazar.
A Man Escaped
Bresson’s movie, A Man Escaped, is a demonstration of spiritual aspects of his work. In the movie’s diary, Bernanos country priest’s struggles creates a situation where Christian symbols employment is unavoidable. Bresson uses overworked genres of what Jonathan Rosenbaum refers to “the greatest of all prison-escape movies” (Cunneen) to induce a reflection on the broad spectrum of complex issues of predestination and grace. Bresson’s films subject viewers to appreciate and cherish attention to detail and patience tangled in prisoner’s planning. The film causes to viewers moments of silence rather than emphasizing violent action and gunplay. The man described in the title of the film seems to be worn out by the routine experience in prison when under the death sentence and his fellow inmates are desperate in the desire to have a word with each other. The man struggles to liberate his fellows and this yield to deeper sense of belonging amongst them. The audience are subjected to feelings of mysterious forces, which appear to favor efforts of a single prisoner more than another does. This story behind the movie is about the escape of a man, Andre Devigny (Fontaine) in Nazi prison, Montluc, Lyons in 1943. Bresson had a goal in his movie, to defy neo-realism of the Italian directors who desired their movies to reflect societies around them. Bresson conveys realism in style, where he is able to put the audience thinking from their own minds. Bresson’s initial title of the film was Help Yourself, which was discarded and replaced with the title “the spirit blows where it wills”, and is derived from St. John’s (3:8). Fontaine acts on intricate dialectics between free will and faith. He believes that God is with him but has an obligation to use all resources at his disposal to succeed in his liberation. Bresson expounds on his intent, “I want to show this miracle: an invisible hand over the prison directing events and making something succeed for one person and not for another.”
Mouchette and Au Hasard Balthazar
Robert Bresson narrates the story of teenage girl, friendless and disadvantaged in rural regions of France. Mouchette is filmed immediately after the Au Hasard Balthazar, both of which feature common themes and elements. Both films describe ill-fated teenage girls living a tormenting life in a rural French society depicted as violent, alcohol besotted, and mean-spirited. Due to thematic cohesions of the two films, they have critics paired and Bresson’s admirers hold them in high esteem. However, there is a striking difference between the two films. Most of th content in Au Hasard Balthazaar film is based on Bresson’s script while Mouchette is adapted from existing texts, Georges Bernanos novel, which paves way for Bresson’s masterful art, Diary of a Country Priest (The Film Sufi). The two films are considered religious or even spiritual, and influences of Bresson’s Jansenist Roman Catholic upbringing. In this films, Bresson appears as an agnostic and thus he is not completely in obsession of religious or spiritual schema. Mouchette symbolizes extra progression of Bresson’s transitions towards the pessimistic views of the nature of humans and the prospect of redemption. Even though redemption is held as possible in A Man escaped (1956), The Trial of Joan of Arc (1962), Pickpocket (1959), and Au Hasard Balthazar (1966), the likelihoods of redemption seem to be only subjective. Considering Mouchette, the view advances further away from the contemplative melancholy towards complete despair. During the making of the two films, Bresson’s filmmaking aesthetics were legendarily austere or severely undecorated. He had restricted himself to nonprofessional actors that were told to read their particular lines in plain and automatic fashions, devoid of theatrical interpretations. The action was done to present filmmaking watching experience
Better Understanding of Bresson’s work
When Bresson was asked why he took that style of making films, he would affirmatively respond that he was a believer and that his beliefs must find a way into his films. Bresson’s films, A Man Escaped, Mouchette, and Au hazard Balthazar entails scenes of human cruelty, rape, prostitution, liberation, and suicide, employed to provide a broader description of the human interactions in the society and as dogmatic assertions of spiritual creeds. Bresson’s work is more of anthropology than theology. In his films, there are more questions than answers provided. Therefore, while representing particular Catholic themes in the films, Bresson turns the mirror on rituals and aims to understand anthropological and sociological underpinnings. With the knowledge of the sacrificial nature of some members of the society and the precarious place of mankind in it, Bresson is able to cinematically expound on anthropology depicting the roles of redemption. Through the understanding of Bresson’s Catholicism, anthropological concepts of sacrifice, and sociologically-driven visions of humanity, we can fully nuance and grasp what it means to be a Catholic encompassing complex thinking and challenging religious conventions (Hudson). According to Shmuel (1997), Bresson’s style of filmmaking is disitinct and goes beyond that of virtual filming to realism. He describes in Notes sur leCinematographic(1975), “to create is not to deform or invent persons or things. It is to tie new relationships between persons and things which are, and as they are.” Thus, he minimalises on the fact that we should not deform reality but allow ourselves to concentrate on real things and persons presented to us.
Robert Bresson builds on deeply moving and visually spare films on alienation, faith, and perseverance in the Diary of Country Priest (Acquarello). Bresson creates caustic, harrowing and socially appropriate indictments of amorality and materialism in his masterpiece films. The reality of his films are peculiar as they are abstractions of real life situations that heighten and deepens choosen elements of human existence, while at the same time pairing all needless details. Indeed, the realism in Bresson’s films can be describes as “refined vision” which gives Bresson direction for searching his eventual objective: the significance of human existence. Bresson said, “I simplify everything, first by elimination on the paperand then, much more so, during shooting, so as not to over-burden the pictures, so as not to render them opaque…The poetry, if there is any, comes from the tautness. It is not ‘poetic’ poetry, but cinematography poetry. It arises out of simplification, which is only a more direct way of seeing people and things.” Thus, what he sought for was the truth of reality itself. Bresson’s films are influenced by his experience as a prisoner of war and the religion, Catholicism that took the nature of predestinarian French strains referred to as Jansenism, and as a painter in his early years (Cardullob). One significance of Jansenist implications is Bresson’s complete mistrust of the psychological motives surrounding characters actions. In the conventional filmmaking, or the conventional theory, a person should have a reason on whetever one does. For instance, a murder without a motive is unacceptable. On the contrary, Bresson’s work indicates actions lacking in reasons. People behave of their characters and are only willing to follow the destiny designed for them. Often times, characters states their intention and do the opposite in the next scene. Through a scrutiny on his experience as a painter, Bresson’s influence on films is evidenced in the severity of the compositions of the films.
A Man Escaped is not just a distinct film, but also an alien one. Hitherto, Fontaines planning details constitute the flavor of the film. The film is transfigured by the gossamer of spirits defining human beings. The film champions Bresson’s genius mind, where A Man Escaped resembles home improvement projects at times, and neither comes around technical nor tedious. The film conveys a broad spectrum of messages that indicate functions encompassing concrete tasks (Shoals).Much as most of Bressen’s films have been supported with positive previews, some like Sergeant Tibbs view them as powerful and cathartic representations of the inevitable frustrations of life and moral dilemmas. Sergeant feels that Bressen’s filming style for Pickpocket and Au Hasard Balthazar are over-simplified, plodding and bland. Whereas Balthazar does not help Sergeant, Pickpocket shows some potential but is quickly squandered taking a completely different direction. Sergeant, however, positively reviews on Mouchette, which is drenched in pain and sorrow. Over the protagonists rebelling and squirming from her exertions, her deeds are a catharsis from life’s frustrations when she faces punishment for committing them. A Man Escaped, the fourth film that Bresson wrote is a second installment in the unofficial trilogy films by Bresson and depend on voice-over narrative. The simple nature of the title, A Man Escaped embodies the philosophical importance, where a man condemned to death escapes. A film like A Man Escaped awakens the human spirit, connects us to different sources, people or things. Such films lift veils of familiarity between people and the world, and thus reveals how distinct human spirit or religion determines how they understand their living.
Acquarello. "Strictly film school." Le Journal d'un curé de campagne, 1950 (2000). .
Cardullob, Bert. The Films of Robert Bresson: A Casebook. New York, US: Anthem Press, 2009.
Cunneen, Joseph. Robert Bresson: A Spiritual Style in Film. London, United Kingdom: A&C Black, 2004.
Hudson, Robert J. "Mouchette and the Sacrificial Scene: Bresson’s Cinematic Anthropology." Anthropoetics: The Journal of Generative Anthropology (2016).
Kinema. "Robert Bresson: Depth Behind Simplicity." A journal for film and audiovisual media (2014). .
Sergeant_Tibbs. "Mouchette-User Reviews." IMDb 30 July 2013. .
Shmuel, Ben-gad. "TO SEE THE WORLD PROFOUNDLY." Cross Currents 47.2 (1997).
Shoals, Bethlehem. "A Man Escaped,' Bresson's pensive, otherworldly take on a prison break." Politico Newyork 20 January 2012. .
The Film Sufi. Devoted to the discussion of film expression. 13 March 2009. 26 March 2017. .
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