Tag Archives: Robert Bresson

XL Popcorn – A Man Escaped

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 869/1009Title: A Man Escaped
Director: Robert Bresson
Year: 1956
Country: France

Having seen Le Trouand knowing how that goes, I was a bit relieved to see that A Man Escaped is based on a true story from the memoirs of the man that escaped. Means that no matter how high the tension got – like seeing our protagonist being sentenced to death at Hotel Terminus – you knew that it was unlikely to end with a firing squad.

I have had a bit of a tumultuous relationship with Bresson in the 1001 films list. Out of the previous three films of his, I have only liked one of them – my issue with the other two being a main character who I not only disliked, but also failed to understand their motivations. Sure, I’m a bit of a goodie two shoes – sue me.

With A Man Escaped, it is difficult to find a situation where you can route for someone more – a member of the French resistance plans and executes their escape from prison in order to not be executed by the invading Nazi troops. This is the plot of the film where we spend most of the time seeing how he prepares his tools and comes up with the best way to escape – again, all based on the memoirs of the man who escaped.

There’s a bit at the beginning where Bresson states that all we are about to see is true – thankfully he omitted the torture elements of the true story, but everything else hasn’t been altered too much for cinematic effect. Knowing that, it is difficult to not be in awe as we watch this man fashion tools, map his surroundings and come up with the easiest way to actually get out of his cell (a few months with a sharpened spoon and, oddly enough, a wooden prison door).

Like with Journal of a Country Priest, this film is a bit of a slow burn – but that just helps when it comes to building up the tension. Even though you know it’s going to be okay – this is still a prison where 7 out of 10 inmates were killed and there’s plenty of obstacles between this man and freedom. It’s a real triumph of a man’s ingenuity and what the price of freedom can be – and then there is me who would have probably fallen to their death in the first few minutes having weaved a bad rope.

XL Popcorn – Pickpocket

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 825/1007Title: Pickpocket
Director: Robert Bresson
Year: 1959
Country: France

Pickpocket is my third film by acclaimed French film-maker Robert Bresson the others being L’Argent and Journal of a Country PriestWhen reading up about Bresson, Pickpocket is far and away his biggest film in terms of how critics view it and how it helped shape French cinema. It was released the same year as Breathless and had a similar role in giving rise to French New Wave. Regular readers of my blog will likely know where I am heading for the next few paragraphs.

For a film that isn’t even 80 minutes long – I cannot begin to describe how frustrating it was. This is me, again, banging my head against the wall of French cinema of this era where emotions are to be tempered and everything is cloaked with the same nauseating veil of narcissism. The lead character (and I’m not going into how bleeding obvious it was that the leading man wasn’t a proper actor) is so devoid of emotion and so sure of his own greatness that I wasn’t able to derive any real tension from his acts of pickpocketing.

Sure, the scenes depicting the pickpocketing (which reminded me of scenes in Hustle without the slow-motion and the show-boating) are really interesting – but as I was unable to connect to him, I was unable to get any of the tension that I was meant to be feeling about the possibility of him being caught. I’m in the minority here, believe me I know. If anything, the moment towards the end he finally got caught gave me a bit of schadenfreude – something especially heightened by his monologue at the end.

I wish I could have liked this as I hate being among the small group who dislike acclaimed films like this. In the end though, this is all a taste thing and I just don’t have a taste for these sorts of films. Thankfully there cannot be too many of these left, so I am taking some solace in that.

XL Popcorn – Journal Of A Country Priest

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 689/1007Title: Journal d’un curé de campagne (Journal Of A Country Priest)
Director: Robert Bresson
Year: 1951
Country: France

A few years ago I saw L’argent where I got a bit annoyed at the pretence of someone committing a bank robbery out of desperation of being out of work for a week. I thought it felt a bit of a stretch and didn’t allow me to feel fully invested in the characters. This is not something that I can say for Journal Of A Country Priest. 

For one thing, this film has an incredibly impressive debut performance by Claude Laydu as the titular country priest. In fact, this film does remarkable work from a group of mostly unknowns – but this completely belongs to Laydu. His character of the idealistic and particular priest who is rejected by his parish is… remarkably tragic.

Seriously, this film is just this slow burn of sadness as you watch this young nameless priest being ostracised and basically destroyed. I mean, one of the first things you learn about him is about his poor constitution (i.e. his stomach only being able to take dry bread) and this becomes a ticking time bomb.

The big thing that Bresson and Laydu are able to do with Journal Of A Country Priest is make you feel. So many of the priest’s interactions with his parishioners just make you feel so incredibly angry (especially Chantal… seriously she can rot for everything that she did) and it feels like none of this was warranted. Sure, he’s persnickety and very by the book – but he’s a priest after all.

I am getting so close to 700 films that I can almost taste it, especially since I am currently making my way through Dekalog as part of the 1001 TV Shows list. More on that soon, I guess, but I suppose it’ll be worth my picking out a pretty big film for this next landmark and we’ll see what the other films that’ll make up this mini-countdown.

XL Popcorn – L’Argent / The Golden Coach

Two weeks later and this is no longer a wrist problem, but my whole right arm and shoulder. The dictated reviews shall continue on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: L’Argent
Director: Robert Bresson
Year: 1983
Country: France

If you have seen The IT Crowd you may get where I am about to go. If not, you should check out this fake advert for Internet piracy to see where the rest of this “talk up” is going.

They say that money is the root of all evil and going by the poster for this film, which depicts two franc notes with bloodied teeth, you can tell where this film is going. In short it is the story of how an innocent bystander is taken down a path of “evil” after being handed over three counterfeit bills. I can almost see the PSA that could be made about counterfeiting money from edited sections of this film.

One thing that I can appreciate about a lot of French films is subtlety. This is a gross generalisation as there is nothing subtle about Irreversible, but as the stereotyping goes you’re looking for subtle and slow. From the get go the message of the film is about how money can make good people do bad things. For example, I am sure that the owners of the frame store are usually decent people but the actions that they take after being duped by fake currency on three occasions is morally reprehensible. Sure, they get some form of comeuppance but their actions which leads to the corruption of an innocent delivery boy cannot really be excused.

Now I’ve seen some say that this film is about how one act of corruption can cause an innocent person to do terrible things. I wholeheartedly disagree. The main focus of the film had many paths he could have gone down that would have been honest. This includes swallowing some pride and asking for his job back after being so unfairly fired (if he was that desperate for money…) and not getting himself involved in a bank robbery.

I mean, I really feel for him. The perjury that was committed that led to him losing his job is abhorrent, but in this day and age (and I mean 1980s Paris) losing a job does not mean getting involved in a bank robbery within a week. Right? He chose this path of, what he assumed, least resistance. This is where the film failed to completely immerse me. I could not suspend disbelief adequately enough to accept this line of action. Even the ending 10 minutes feels outlandish.

Maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t buy it and I feel that I could be alone here.

Title: The Golden Coach (Le Carrosse d’or)
Director: Jean Renoir
Year: 1952
Country: France

Here was me expecting to do a French language pair and The Golden Coach ends up being an English! It just shows how much I know about cinema, and the works of Jean Renoir, doesn’t it? Apparently an Italian version of this was also created, but the director always preferred the English one.

Jean Renoir is one of a select group of directors to have 5+ films on the 1001 list. Having seen two others it is only apt that I make a comparison. Of the three this is easily the lesser, but there is no shame in this for The Rules of the Game stands as one of my favourite French films. Similarly Partie de Campagne is one of my favourite short films regardless of nationality. So it is safe to say that I appreciate the work of Jean Renoir.

The problem is that the gulf between The Golden Coach and the other two films is rather large. There is no doubting that musically and visually this is an outstanding film. You only have to watch the first 10 minutes to understand what a feast for the eyes this is. It’s just that the central plotline of Camilla and her three suitors would have been better served in a different setting.

I have seen similar ideas in other films before. The woman/man having to choose between a number of lovers of different social standing. The thing is the courting process feels so incredibly brief and the object of their affections is not exactly welcoming.

This is the point I’m going to leap to the defence of Anna Magnani. For the role that she has been given she is outstanding. It can be distracting at times to have such a strong Italian accent delivering these lines in English (in the world of the film she is speaking in Spanish) but the actress is Italian as is her character so it all makes sense.

However, the issue that I have is that she is playing a poor actress (in money not in ability) and she looks like she’s in her forties. It feels incredibly sexist to by saying this, but this isn’t realistic. Especially from the point of view of the viceroy who is willing to give up his title and wealth to be with someone who cannot give him children. If his role had been played and by Anna Magnani when she was 10 years younger I would be all for it. I would be saying this if the roles were reversed and you had three young women going after Philip Seymour Hoffman. He is arguably one of the best actors of his generation, but… you know.

I also had a really big issue with the ending. Suddenly the fourth wall was utterly broken and we have no idea of the fates of the three suitors (as far as we’re aware two of them were gonna be killed). Also after all that Camilla is told that as an actress her true happiness is on stage and not in real life. It just feels like a cop out, which aggravates me after all the groundwork that had been built to lead to the final moments. It’s still a good movie, but there is so much that could have made it exceptional.

Progress: 508/1007