Program of films by Roebert Bresson

Robert Bresson: Work of a True Moralist

When the powerful producer Dino de Laurentis set his mind to making a film
adaptation of the Bible, he planned to have each episode directed by a different
famous director. His choice for the director of the stories about the flood,
Noah’s ark, and the final salvation of life in the universe was the French
director Robert Bresson, whose career at the time was at its peak. Bresson was
very interested and he decided to use an original idea in his interpretation: he
would not insist on living beings, but rather on their traces, i.e. on the
footsteps of beings that would extend the living species. It is unnecessary to
mention how the producer reacted to this idea…

Less is more – seems to have been this true film auteur’s motto throughout
his career. So, in forty years, he made only thirteen films. And even if that
wasn’t enough for him, to those who are interested in film as a work of an
independent and original artist, that was enough to place him among the most
significant cineastes of all time.

Bresson made his debut during WW II. That, along with his upbringing and
education, had a great impact on his later work. He took a degree in literature
and philosophy, was a German prisoner for eighteen months, and began his career
at the time when, all of a sudden, works with themes of the famous French poetic
realism became inadmissible. Therefore, some of the debutants turned to the
genre of criminal films (e.g. Clouzot, Becker), while Bresson turned to the
oasis of loneliness, with characters of loners who search for existential
foothold. In his films such people find that foothold at least for a moment:
sometimes they are strong enough to resist (e.g. the runaway in the film Un
condamné ŕ mort s'est échappé
, 1956, Jeanne d'Arc in Procčs de Jeanne
, 1962), otherwise they end up losing their dignity (e.g. priest in
Journal d'un curé de campagne
, 1950.) or finding strength for atonement and
plead for a forgiveness (Pickpocket, 1958). And if the director’s
solution is more pessimistic, then they at least touch the viewer with their
suffering (Mouchette, 1966; L'Argent, 1982).

Bresson’s work style was in line with such characteristics and the imaginary
motto, low-budget productions, done in independent companies. His directing
style is often referred to as the ascetic style (opposed to the baroque) and
similar to Dreyer’s and Ozouvi’s. Finally, Bresson’s world of images and sounds
is a world created by the almost perfectly careful selection and reduction,
while his films’ plots are usually free of complex intrigues and turbulent
turns, characteristic of the classic storytelling style. It is often stated in
the describing comments of his films that the actors are not even acting. That
is the reason why Bresson often chose amateurs and those who were rejected from
acting schools. Namely, he believed in the power of the context created by film,
which can be realized with even a dumb donkey (Au hasard Balthazar, 1965)
if you should discover in it something of an acting being. That means that the
power of human expressiveness does not have to come from a modus of the
contemporary acceptable style of acting. Also, could the rich inner lives of the
heroes, such as his heroes have, be expressed by previously “used” faces and

For all these reasons, Bresson’s work, besides being ascetic, is
characterized by a new film psychology and work of a true moralist. As such, his
work is hard to imitate. There are, however, some who have (at least once)
quoted him (Godard in Živjeti svoj život), and those who, at first sight
different, once in a while would be compared to Bresson (e.g. von Trier,
Kaurismaki, Jarmusch). That what started with Bresson cannot disappear.

(Ante Peterlić)