… the acts he has perpetrated are inseparable from the extreme beauty of his being.
This is from the essay ‘A Stranger’s Posture: Notes on Bresson’s Late Films’ by Kent Jones found in Robert Bresson edited by James Quandt (1998):
… In L’Argent, the man-made world is a ruthlessly efficient machine fueled by money in which everyone is potentially disposable. The viewer is drawn to little traces of activity and sensual detail that the characters don’t even notice — Yvon’s gloved hands as he pumps oil (a devastating cut: it is our introduction to him, and we’ve just left the owners of the photography shop discussing how they can palm off their counterfeit bill), the heavy-footed walk of the old woman as Yvon follows her from town to her house in the country, the dog frantically running through the house as the final murders are committed.
[line break added] Bresson makes his camera as implacable as the position of modern society itself, and with the most extraordinary calm and dispassion makes a film about the genesis and final realization of a tragedy, over which neither he nor anyone else has any control. L’Argent is just as frightening a film as Pasolini’s Salò, except that it is less toxic, informed by a terrible resignation rather than a profound anger. Yvon’s solidity (there is the saddest hint of a bygone innocent youth in his face and his movement) is no match for the society that is systematically destroying him.
… What led to Bresson’s increasing need to focus on desperation and hopelessness in the years between Un condamné à mort s’est échappé and L’Argent? But then, can it really be said that L’Argent or Le Diable probablement are pessimistic films? That different outcomes seem almost impossible for either Charles or Yvon is less important than the fact that, beyond the despair felt by each character, the world continues: the events of both films, awful as they are, occur in the same Christian universe where the flowing of water through a stream and the hanging of clothes on a line (the clicking of those clothes-pins!) imprint themselves on the eye and ear, acquiring a pure, heightened beauty that approaches the ecstatic.
[line break added] Just as Pasolini left his vanity behind when he made Salò to foucs his audience’s attention on the cruelties of the world in the most direct way he knew, Bresson ended one of the most adventurous and heroic careers in the cinema by filming a real-life horror story. But whereas Pasolini withdrew any possibility of redemption from his film and left all responsibility to his audience, Bresson kept his faith in an ultimate reality behind the veil of modern callousness by trusting his own senses to perceive its beauty, and in the sensitivity of his camera and his Nagra to record it.
[line break added] “I love life,” Bresson said in a 1986 conversation with Brian Baxter, and that love is evident in every frame of L’Argent, perhaps the only film ever made that allows the horrors of mankind and the beauty of the world that contains it to coexist without irony or bitterness. As Yvon sits in the café having his last drink as a free man, his head slightly cocked, his brow furrowed, his body almost inert, the acts he has perpetrated are inseparable from the extreme beauty of his being.
My most recent previous post from this book is here.