Unreal Nature

November 17, 2016

Compelled by the Camera

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… we are aghast that this freedom to interpret reality, which we grant so readily to a painter, is still denied to a filmmaker.

This is from Mani Kaul’s piece in the section ‘Filmmakers on Bresson‘ found in Robert Bresson edited by James Quandt (1998):

… “Gesture comes before meaning,” Bresson said in English in answer to a question about his repetition of takes. The mechanism was a trap, which at the end must disappear. These words never left me afterwards.

You find followers of his films, at least one in every country you chance upon. Yet you come across not one who has entirely renounced the “actor,” or acting for that matter.

Semblance to Bresson turns into appearance and not into nature; the posture is made meaningful before it attains meaning. The more intellectual the film, the more caricatured. How on earth can the profound find a “posture”?

If one were to attempt to follow or imitate any master, it would be impossible to do so entirely; therefore there is no danger in it, at least in the initial or formative years of one’s work. The difference between the master and your imitation of him, the subtle difference, the exact distance/angle of the disparity, will lead you to understand things about yourself.

[line break added] The natural incapacity to imitate someone else perfectly leads to a realization of your own inner and original strivings. All the so-called “mistakes” in following/imitating the master are the first crevices that will open into a chasm of difference between his work and your own. Your imagination then becomes your own. Like the master, but different in that it makes possible your unique expression of emotion as documentary.

Here is Louis Malle in the ‘Filmmakers on Bresson‘ section:

… What he shows us, finally, is not a false universe, but a corrected, rectified universe, an original universe from which is missing convention, the convention of the “right” gesture, of the “right” voice, theatrical convention. All this is obvious, and we are aghast that this freedom to interpret reality, which we grant so readily to a painter, is still denied to a filmmaker. When we go to a museum today, it is not to see apples; yet Bresson is criticized because his hero doesn’t change his shirt.

“His actors play badly.” The term “play,” by its very ambiguity, is significant. The point is, his actors do not play. Bresson plays with them.

[ … ]

… Watch the film [Pickpocket] carefully: you will see that the characters are compelled by the camera, pulled, pushed, held back by it. Look at those admirable backward tracking shots that suck along the characters, lead them.

Everything is beautiful in this film, because everything is necessary. The sequence in the Lyon train station is not a bravura piece: ballet, orgy, revelry, it illustrates perfectly “this sort of frenzy that sin procures.” The cold gaze, the pursed lips of Martin Lassalle and his accomplices evoke Don Juan and the Marquis de Sade. The camera, more present here than anywhere else in the film, precedes and leads the gestures and looks.

… By the simple and definitive relationship it establishes between content and expression, Pickpocket is a film of dazzling originality. On its first viewing, it risks burning your eyes. So, do like me: go back to see it again every day.


My most recent previous post from this book is here.




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