… “It’s the same raw material for all … the same bones, arranged differently … “
This is from the essay ‘Robert Bresson: L’Aventure intérieure’ by René Prédal found in Robert Bresson edited by James Quandt (1998):
… Bresson likes to quote Renoir’s advice to Matisse: “You must paint the bouquet from the side it wasn’t arranged.” … Godard does the same thing, first in Sauve qui peut (la vie) (“I tried to shoot the landscape from the back”) and above all in recreating the tableaux vivants of Passion. He arranges his models like they are in the real painting, but films them from a different angle than the one chosen by the painter in order to “see the story rather than tell it,” as he put it.
… But cinema must track the unforeseen, the perverse; consequently Bresson does not allow himself to decide anything ahead of time, leaving instead the possibility of attacking the shot differently from what he’d prepared.
… In Un condamné à mort s’est échappé, the title’s second clause announces the climax, while the first retains the film’s connection to the thriller. The two parts of the title undermine one another to define Bresson’s recasting of the genre. The film has a subtitle, however, Le Vent souffle où il vent, itself part of a maxim drawn from the authority of the Old Testament. “The wind bloweth where it listeth” serves as the title’s emblem. Title and subtitle link the two mysteries: the one that can be uncovered and solved, and that gives its name to the genre; the other that covers all things in eternal enigma.
… Can one speak of suspense at all in Bresson’s versions of the thriller? No, answers Eric Rohmer in his discussion of Un condamné à mort s’est échappé, if by suspense one intends the clever choice and placement of good and bad omens. Yes, if by suspense is understood that nothing can distract the spectator from the thought of escape.
[line break added] The title and voice-over testify to the survival, indeed to the vigor of the narrator/hero. The image is in the past in relationship to the present of the voice; from the first intervention it is clear that the danger is long gone. Yet the image remains in the present of the screen and of the viewing. While we know that the man escapes in the end, the mode and, above all, the fact of the escape root our attention.
[line break added] The wind blows, but we do not know from where it comes nor where it goes. The enigma of the subtitle, the suspense of that other mystery, remains. In Bresson’s hands, the mystery, the conventional mode of the hidden, becomes the privileged mode of the revealed. “All things conceal a mystery.”
[ … ]
… Towards the beginning of Une femme douce, there is an extended discussion between She and He of the similarities in skeleton between man and other animals. She is on the floor of the sitting room surrounded by books and records, eating sweets. She tells He of a recent visit to the natural history museum; opened before her is a book of photographs of skeletons.
[line break added] “It’s the same raw material for all … the same bones, arranged differently, for a mouse, for an elephant, for a man,” She observes. Towards the end of the film, He and She make a visit together to this same museum. They walk through rooms filled with skeletons of animals large and small, much like those that had served to illustrate the book on which She had commented earlier. “You were right. It’s the same raw material for all,” says He, taking up her point — and Pascal’s almost to the word.
[line break added] For Bresson as for Pascal, in art as in nature, it is not so much a question of the matter at hand (“c’est la même matière” — He repeats after She) but of its editing (“la disposition des matières est nouvelle” — writes Pascal), not so much a question of which words one uses, which ball, which colors, which bones or which shots, or whether they have been used before, but of their placement.
My most recent previous post from this book is here.