Wednesday, January 6, 2010


*Robert Bresson*1983*85m*L'Argent*inspired by a Tolstoi short story*

The last of Bresson's films--he was around eighty--after which he was financially constrained from furthur film-making. One of the dominant images in the film is that of ATMs: the sound of machinery and the money disgorging. " A film has four things--visuals, music, dialogues and sounds." This one has no music except a bit at the end, little dialogue, plenty of sound effects and is visually very expressive. Bresson remarked that the present film belongs to his so called "lucid"--rather than pessimistic-- period. Whatever that means.

Money! Who can deny it's power, importance and desirability? For it's sake, how many tears are shed, hearts  broken , enemies made and crimes committed! It is the ultimate objectivisation of worldly desires-- neither sinner nor saint can be indifferent to it .

Two school boys set in motion a tragic chain of events when they pass a fake 500 franc note at a photographers shop. The photographer and his assistant in turn pass off this bad note, along with two others they have, to a young man who delivers gas. This young man is caught when he tries to use this money, tried in a court, found guilty but let off. However he loses his job, which sets him on a path of crime to support his wife and child. Again he is caught and sentenced to three years in prison. While in jail, his child dies, his wife leaves him and he attempts suicide. He emerges from prison a transformed creature, and the film culminates in four brutal murders.

It is a stark portrayal of the reality of human society, which seems quite valid as a description of India as I know it in the twenty first century. We are at the mercy of blind and invisible forces ( money and ATMs are perhaps a powerful metaphor for these forces ). The characters in the film--us-- seem to be like mindless rats scampering in a maze. With the austere style of expression for which he is known, Bresson observes this human tragedy of the obliteration of a youth with deep but leashed compassion--compassion utterly shorn of sentiment. At no point do we see violence on the screen--even a slap is only portrayed through it's sound. He maintains distance from the subject and his detachment is almost scientific. His poetry is cold and steely. As in his other films, the actors do not act, and speak only in monosyllabes. They are more like "mannequins". Bresson expresses himself through position and motion, a geometric linearity and minimalism.  His films are works of architecture, sculpted to the sinew. Bresson speaks to our soul, if  such an entity have existence, in deep humanism.

The film whets my appetite for  more of his work.
Noel Vera's review


Harmanjit Singh said...

Umm... James Bresson? Shouldn't it be Robert Bresson. Sorry to quibble.

I liked the film but to me the ending was tonally different from the rest of the film, as I remember. I did not get a sense of (tragic) closure at the end of the film, as I did in Balthazar and in Mouchette.

S M Rana said...


Thanks! Corrected !

The movie closes with a blank screen as the boy is led away by the police. Neither tragic nor gruesome--just the Director watching from an observation platform, as it were, refusing to comment or participate--maybe that is what Bresson meant when he says this final period of his was one of lucidity, rather than knowledge or enlightenment. I liked this movie more than the others ( maybe it is because this is an immediate experience ) and I think the director has tried to frame his vision of life truthfully and non-judgementally.