… they are fighting a constant, ruthless battle to reach each other …
This is from the essay ‘The Universe of Robert Bresson‘ by Amédée Ayfre found in Robert Bresson edited by James Quandt (1998):
… How does Bresson manage to give us only the essence of people and events without any feeling of thinness? Largely through a very precise choice of details, objects and accessories; through gestures charged with an extremely solid reality. André Bazin noted this in a well-known article on Bresson’s style: “All that was needed,” he said, “was the sound of a windscreen-wiper with a text by Diderot to produce a Racinian dialogue.”
[line break added] The sound of the windscreen-wiper has an equivalent in all Bresson’s films, whether in the soundtrack or the visuals. For example, the raking of the paths in the park during the curé’s conversation with the countess, or Joan of Arc’s old shoes being consigned to the flames of her own funeral pyre. It is the stylistic arrangement of all these concrete details which ultimately delineates the soul of a character, a situation or a film.
[line break added] Bresson said somewhere that the director is a “metteur en ordre.” He is isolating raw elements taken from real life and putting them together in a certain order. “Like a painting,” he also said, “a film should be made of relationships. To create is not to deform things nor to invent them, it is to give existing things new relationships.”
… there is always something fundamental and mysterious in them [Bresson’s characters] which escapes us. They emanate a sort of discomfort which means that they can never be truly sympathetic. The phenomenon of projection and identification has no part in them. They make us feel uncertain and uneasy. Where they are concerned, every ambiguity, if not equivocation, is possible. Who is Thérèse? Who is Hélène? Who are Chantal, the curé, Fontaine, Michel, Joan? “The closer we get, the more they reveal themselves and the more obscure they become … instead of becoming clearer” (J. Arbois).
… This is why, even in their most extreme confidences, they never fundamentally reveal anything but their mystery — like God himself. Thus one can see them again and again without wearying of them, for they enrich but never satiate. Like Wisdom, “They that eat me shall yet be hungry, and they that drink me shall yet be thirsty” (Ecclesiastes XXXIV, 21).
… Many modern works, in the cinema and elsewhere, cultivate more or less successfully the theme of loneliness, preferably in a crowd, and produce variations which do not always manage to avoid a certain romantic complacency. By contrast, there is nothing less romantic than the loneliness of Bresson’s characters.
[line break added] Theirs is not a sentimental attitude and it would be impossible to reveal the slightest complacency. On the contrary, they are fighting a constant, ruthless battle to reach each other by one means or another. They seem to know that their isolation is only apparent and that mysterious opportunities of meeting do exist, if one knows how to grasp them.
[line break added] They are like forest trees seen at eye-level, their smooth, stiff trunks well-spaced, always protected with bark, while underground, invisibly, their roots intermingle, and at the same time, high in the sky, their topmost branches lean towards one another in the hope that a breath of wind will enable them to touch. These people see each other, address each other, reproach each other, but even after they have been trying for a long time, communication is always a leap into the unknown, almost a miracle.
There will be more from this essay next week.
My previous post from this book is here.