Close Up

3 - 15 November 2015: Close-Up on Robert Bresson


"Bresson is widely recognized and celebrated as the auteur who, more than any other single artist, has exerted a gravitational pull shaping the stylistic course of contemporary world cinema. Diverse filmmakers from Rainer Werner Fassbinder to Tsai Ming-liang have echoed Bresson’s elliptical narratives of sin and redemption, grace and transcendence. Equally influential is the unique ascetic minimalism that imparts music and sound in Bresson's films with an ontological force and spiritual presence. (...) After his earliest films, he worked only with inexperienced performers or non-actors, whom he referred to as "models," who were expected not to act but rather to reveal themselves to the camera. For Bresson did not believe in cinema that relied on psychologically motivated and complex characters; his cinema is concerned with the spiritual lives of his protagonists and the only partially legible, metaphysical paths towards either redemption or ruin. These journeys are guided by Bresson’s sober and unerring eye for the transcendental and opaque theater that unfolds both between individuals and between the shadowy world around them, a world in which roles are defined less through language than through gestures and presence. Bresson’s subtle and signature use of ellipsis and subtraction to define place and character creates not ambiguity but profound, at times deeply unsettling, mystery." – David Pendleton

Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne
Robert Bresson
1945 | 82 min l B/W | 35mm

Robert Bresson's second film, scripted by Jean Cocteau, established his unique, highly personal vision. Made during the last days of the Occupation the film centres on a dangerous love triangle. This study of erotic obsession and the redeeming power of true love combines the superficial glamour of Parisian high society with the seething passions and jealousies that cause a spurned femme fatale, Helene (Maria Casarès), to seek her ex-lover's humiliation, driven to destroy the object of her most ardent desire. read more

The Diary of a Country Priest
Robert Bresson
1951 | 110 min | B/W | Digital

A new priest (Claude Laydu) arrives in the French country village of Ambricourt to attend to his first parish. The apathetic and hostile rural congregation rejects him immediately. Through his diary entries, the suffering young man relays a crisis of faith that threatens to drive him away from the village and from God. With The Diary of a Country Priest – based on Georges Bernanos novel, Bresson began to implement his stylistic philosophy as a filmmaker, stripping away all inessential elements from his compositions, the dialogue and the music, exacting a purity of image and sound. read more

A Man Escaped
Robert Bresson
1956 | 98 min | B/W | 35mm

A Man Escaped tells the true story of a Frenchman’s escape from a German prison camp in Lyon during World War II. It is Bresson’s first film with an entirely non-professional cast and it crystallized his mature aesthetic: automatic and barely-emotive performances, a heavy dependence on sound effects, isolated instances of music, brief dialogue, and elliptical editing that omits narrative detail in order to provoke mystery or avoid sensationalism. read more

Robert Bresson
1959 | 73 min | B/W | 35mm

Bresson's story of crime and redemption follows Michel, a young pickpocket who spends his days working the streets, subway cars, and train stations of Paris. As his compulsive pursuit of the thrill of stealing grows, however, so does his fear that his luck is about to run out. A cornerstone of the career of this most economical and profoundly spiritual of filmmakers, Pickpocket is an elegantly crafted, tautly choreographed study of humanity in all its mischief and grace, the work of a director at the height of his powers. read more

The Trial of Joan of Arc
Robert Bresson
1962 | 61 min | B/W | Digital

Bresson’s shortest feature film is exactly what its title says: it presents the trial and execution of Joan of Arc. The settings here are as limited as in A Man Escaped, confined as they are to the barn in which Joan is held and tried and the stake outside where she is executed. If his career is seen as a process of winnowing to the essential, perhaps The Trial of Joan of Arc goes the furthest: no narration, no music, only one set, and a brief running time. read more

Au Hasard Balthazar
Robert Bresson
1966 | 91 min | B/W | 35mm

The title character of Au Hasard Balthazar is perhaps the most perfect example of the Bressonian "model": a donkey. Although clearly not acting, Balthazar becomes a compelling and profoundly moving protagonist. As the film follows Balthazar from owner to owner, these figures present a panorama of human vices and virtues. Through Bresson’s unconventional approach to composition, sound, and narrative, this seemingly simple story becomes a moving parable of purity and transcendence. read more

Robert Bresson
1967 | 78 min | B/W | 35mm

Mouchette is Bresson’s second adaptation from Bernanos and another tale of the trials of life in a small French town. Faced with a dying mother, an absent, alcoholic father, and a baby brother in need of care, the teenage Mouchette seeks solace in nature and daily routine, a respite from her economic and pubescent turmoil. An essential work of French filmmaking, Bresson’s hugely empathetic drama elevates its trapped protagonist into one of the cinema’s great tragic figures. read more