… Spectators accustomed to and luxuriously installed in the lies, leave the theater aghast.
This is from Michael Haneke’s piece in the section ‘Filmmakers on Bresson’ found in Robert Bresson edited by James Quandt (1998):
… I have a videotape of the awards ceremony from the 1983 Cannes Film Festival where a Special Jury Prize was jointly awarded to the then seventy-six-year-old Bresson for his last film, L’Argent, and to Andrei Tarkovsky, for Nostalgia. As Bresson, called up by Orson Welles, stepped on to the stage, a tumult broke out, a furious acoustic battle between those booing and those acclaiming him; the audience was asked for calm a number of times — only as Tarkovsky was invited on stage did the storm of protest abate.
What in Bresson’s films caused this behavior in the Cannes auditorium — which represented, or claimed to, the behavior of audiences around the world?
[ … ]
… In order to be and to remain active in the feature film world (to avoid the term “film business”), even those who saw through and despised the rules of the game … found themselves forced to subscribe to them, even to place themselves in their service. To what extent they did so while consciously distancing themselves from them, or were influenced unconsciously by them — is visible in their attempts to playfully circumvent these rules of the game.
[line break added] If individual works overlooked this unspoken agreement — restored thanks to economic necessity — as to the necessity of artistic inconsistency, they were overlooked — shortened, re-edited, castrated as the one-time, and therefore just barely forgivable, faux pas of their makers — relegated to the realm of the experimental film (and thus no threat to the market), or at best half-heartedly tolerated by certain critics as exceptions that prove the rule. The most exciting and most truthful of what the cinema has to offer can be found in this category of exception.
… What happens to them? The films are as different as their authors and the cultural circles from which they originated. What they have in common, and what differentiates them from the great mass of film production, and even from other films by the same author, is their successful unity of content and form. They shatter the dubious consent between those depicted, the mediators, and recipients, and, like the optical torture chair in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, prevent us from closing our eyes, and force us to gaze in the mirror.
[line break added] What a sight! The horror! Spectators accustomed to and luxuriously installed in the lies, leave the theater aghast. Starved for a language capable of capturing the traces of life, and with hearts and minds suddenly opened, the remaining spectators wait for renewed developments of the stroke of luck that has unexpectedly taken place.
[ … ]
… In such a context, Bresson’s continuity seems almost miraculous.
… Of almost all the great directors it is said that they have always made the same film over and over. Of none is this so accurate as of Bresson. To be addicted to truth — one has no choice. “Do not think of your film beyond the means that you have chosen for yourself,” he writes in his Notes. And indeed, it is impossible to tell, while watching his films, if the means have determined the content, or the other way around, they are so very much one and the same.
… Left out [of Bresson’s films] is the gesture of persuasion of models with whom we can identify emotionally.
Left out is the (all too) condensed meaning of the connections of sociological and psychological explanation — as in our daily experience, chance and contradiction of fragmentary splinters of action demand their rights and our attention.
Left out is the pretence of any kind of wholeness, even in the depiction of people. Torso and limbs come together for only scant moments, are separated, are treated like and at the mercy of objects, the face is one part among many, an immobile, expressionless icon of melancholy at the loss of identity.
Left out is the unusual, because it would defraud the misery of everyday existence of its dignity.
Left out, finally, is happiness, because its depiction would desecrate suffering and pain.
And it is precisely this universal retraction (not so unlike that of Mann’s Faust), this tender respect for people’s capacity for perception and personal responsibility, that conceal in their gesture of refusal more utopia than all the bastions of repression and cheap consolation.
My most recent previous post from this book is here.