Melbourne Cinematheque- All is Grace: The uncompromising spirituality of Robert Bresson

10 Apr

“My movie is born first in my head, dies on paper; is resuscitated by the living persons and real objects I use, which are killed on film but, placed in a certain order and projected on to a screen, come to life again like flowers in water.” -Robert Bresson.

Let us talk about Robert Bresson. A French filmmaker who inspired many of the Nouvelle Vague, Bresson himself was influenced by three major aspects of his life; his Catholic childhood, his time as a painter, and his experiences as a prisoner of war. Over forty years he completed thirteen feature films, all distinctively his own. His characters battle against the situations they find themselves in as they search for redemption and meaning in life. They try to find if their life is being driven by their own free will, or by the determinism of a higher power.
Bresson is also noted for having his actors (often non-professional actors to begin with) rehearse scenes so often that the actions of the characters became seamless and second-nature, thus allowing Bresson to capture some of the most naturalistically shot acting sequences in cinema. Bresson also attempted (and essentially mastered), through cinematography, the fusing of sounds and images together in order to create an effect that he believed could only be found within the cinema.

Based on the memoir of Andre Devigny, a prisoner of war held by the Nazis at Fort Montluc, A Man Escaped (1956) follows the plight of captured French Resistance fighter Fontaine. Filmed within the walls of the actual prison, Bresson captures the actions of a man sentenced to death who will now stop at nothing to escape. Filmed with outstanding precision, attention to detail and a shared understanding between director and subject, the film won Best Director at Cannes in 1957 and was Bresson’s most critically and successful film.

Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) follows the lives of two beings; Marie a girl growing up on a farm, and Balthazar, her donkey. Eventually the pair becomes separated and the film follows both as they are mistreated and victimised by various people they encounter, passively taking the abuse. Balthazar’s suffering allows him to become a saintly figure in death, a faint that is not so certain for Marie.

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