… Bresson’s attempt is to insist on the irrefutability of what he is presenting.
This is from the essay ‘Spiritual Style in the Films of Robert Bresson‘ by Susan Sontag found in Robert Bresson edited by James Quandt (1998). Note that I changed my mind and will not be giving more from last week’s Ayfre essay:
Some art aims directly at arousing the feelings; some art appeals to the feelings through the route of the intelligence. There is art that involves, that creates empathy. There is art that detaches, that provokes reflection. Great reflective art is not frigid. It can exalt the spectator, it can present images that appall, it can make him weep. But its emotional power is mediated. The pull toward emotional involvement is counterbalanced by elements in the work that promote distance, disinterestedness, impartiality. Emotional involvement is always, to a greater or lesser degree, postponed.
The contrast can be accounted for in terms of techniques or means even of ideas. No doubt, though, the sensibility of the artist is, in the end, decisive.
… In film, the master of the reflective mode is Robert Bresson.
… Jean Cocteau has said that minds and souls today “live without a syntax, that is to say, without a moral system. This moral system has nothing to do with morality proper, and should be built up by each one of us as an inner style, without which no outer style is possible.” Cocteau’s films may be understood as portraying this inwardness which is the true morality; so may Bresson’s. Both are concerned, in their films, with depicting spiritual style.
… While Cocteau’s art is irresistibly drawn to the logic of dreams, and to the truth of invention over the truth of “real life,” Bresson’s art moves increasingly away from the story and toward the documentary.
… Bresson’s attempt is to insist on the irrefutability of what he is presenting. Nothing happens by chance; there are no alternatives, no fantasy; everything is inexorable. Whatever is not necessary, whatever is merely anecdotal or decorative, must be left out. Unlike Cocteau, Bresson wishes to pare down — rather than to enlarge — the dramatic and visual resources of the cinema. …
True, in the last, most ascetic of all his films, Bresson seems to have left out too much, to have over-refined his conception. But a conception as ambitious as this cannot help but have its extremism, and Bresson’s “failures” are worth more than most directors’ successes. For Bresson, art is the discovery of what is necessary — of that, and nothing more.
[line break added] The power of Bresson’s six films lies in the fact that his purity and fastidiousness are not just an assertion about the resources of the cinema, as much of modern painting is mainly a comment in paint about painting. They are at the same time an idea about life, about what Cocteau called “inner style,” about the most serious way of being human.
My most recent previous post from this book is here.