{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Monday, November 21, 2005

Grace of Bresson.

After reading about Robert Bresson for a week, I finally had the first taste of him in The Diary of a Country Priest. Quiet unexpectedly and quiet effortlessly (if I may say so), I was deeply moved by the plight of a Priest subjected to intolerable hostility and humiliation, and his spiritual journey to gain some grace, which in my opinion he ultimately finds and so does the film. The early parts of the movie reminded me of Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov, his uneasiness, weak health and more importantly his solitude. Also the young Priest's life seemed to give some pointers to the early life of Pastor in Bergman's Winter light and Bergman, for sure, was inspired by this film a lot. The acting is top-class, especially of the young priest (played by Claude Laydu) and how in a small happy scene, he transforms into a young-at-heart soul, is both delightful and heart-breaking. There is one episode which can be called the marvel of film making, the dialogue between the countess and the priest about faith, god, love and peace.

There are plenty of things to talk about in this film, like lighting, subtle sound effects, scene cutting (this reminds me of Ozu, where lot of action happens offscreen) and Bresson's way of dealing with actors (like he wanted only a devout believer for the role of the Priest and his way of talking to the actor on telephone before going for a screen test because for Bresson sound is more honest, intelligent than deceiving plain images), which I save for a latter day. Bresson called himself an agnostic, here takes a very universal stand on faith, giving equally powerful contentions for either side in this restraint visual painting, and this is at this moment, Bresson found grace as a cinematic master in my eyes.

In a particularly touching scene, where distressed priest go to see the dead countess and give his last blessings of peace, he responds, "How can one give something that one doesn't have, miracle of an empty hand".


ventilatorblues said...

One recurring problem I have with the films of Bresson is precisely his use of non-actors. I think it takes away from the realism of the story he is telling, and becomes an exercise in a different sort of realism, which I dont care much about.

ventilatorblues said...

Let me add that a film that works for me despite the use of non-actors is Renoir's The River. Somehow, the annoying expression-less face of the Indian woman is more than compensated for by the lyrical beauty of the film.

Alok said...

I have seen only one Bresson so far (A Man Escaped) and I found the actor's portrayal of the main character quite honest which was paradoxical given how few expressions he showed on his face througout the film.

With such actors it becomes audience's job to find out what those characters are going through by actively participating in what is going on screen and trying to imagine the same. Perhaps that's why Bresson's films work at an emotional level very well too.

On the same note I find the excesses of "method acting" boring too. I mean Nicole Kidman with the nose...the most artificial thing in the whole film.

An actor should never draw attention to his/her craft, that's the golden rule I follow when I am inside a film theatre.

anurag said...

VB, I liked the acting (or rather non-acting) by the young priest in the Diary. Also the countess was superb, even better than the priest. and in some way it proves Bresson's point because countess was more a non-actor (I think she has never acted before or after this film) then the guy who played the priest.

In the words of Bresson...

The less the actors know about the film, the more I like it. I only ask them, "You are sitting here—look at that door." Then we rehearse that ten times. Then I say, "When we are there, you say this sentence. Say it as calmly as possible, as mechanically as possible." In the action, you see, what this girl or this boy has got inside takes place without their knowing it. They say it in a way which is the right way.
And after the third film I said, "I can't work with actors." Not because I don't like them or don't like the theatre. But because it's wrong to confuse the methods of theatre with the methods of the cinema.
I know that if she doesn't act, if she does it mechanically, there will be something very interesting that the camera takes. There are other ways of trying to catch the truth while shooting. When directors ask a girl to talk about her own life in any way she likes, then she starts acting. But if you just tell the person to move and to talk in a monotone, it doesn't become monotonous. It's like a pianist who doesn't put emotion onto his piano but waits for the emotion to come. But he waits with the most mechanical way of playing the piano. Movement has the same effect on my performers. But when critics come to see my films they think there is nothing there. They are used to judging films by the talent of the actors. They see him playing a policeman one week and a gangster the next. But the talent hides the real nature of the man or the girl. It's like a screen between you and the person.
I think that in other films actors speak as if they were onstage. As a result, the audience is used to theatrical inflections. That makes my nonactors appear unique, and thus, they seem to be speaking in a single new way. I want the essence of my films to be not the words my people say or even the gestures they perform, but what these words and gestures provoke in them. What I tell them to do or say must bring to light something they had not realized they contained. The camera catches it; neither they nor I really know it before it happens.

Alok, I also hate the "trick acting". Here is a nice article about acting in nytimes (I know you must have read it)