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Directors: Robert Bresson – Heartbreaking Works of Staggering Genius

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The title’s a little much, you say? Tell that to the throngs of critics and film professors who are constantly heaping praise upon a man known as the “patron saint of cinema.” I myself have sinned and am ashamed to say that I’ve spent more time reading about Robert Bresson than I have actually watching his films. I’ve only seen Diary of a Country Priest, Au Hasard Balthazar, and most recently: The Trial of Joan of Arc. As a result, I don’t have much business writing a piece about him but I couldn’t help myself after being so moved by his portrayal of Joan of Arc’s ordeal.

Bresson is one of those directors that critics adore but tend to stump most audiences. Upon viewing his films they can come off as agonizingly slow and uneventful. But when you realize that Bresson’s style is largely a lack of stylishness, it all comes together. Two of the most important qualities a director can possess are restraint and maturity. Bresson’s work is the epitome of that belief. His films seem simple and the few that I’ve seen can seem like they’re building up to nothing but in the end you realize that you’ve been taken on an absolutely transcendental journey. His films are utterly profound in their apparent simplicity.

Filmmaker Robert BressonBresson is best known for striving for truth in cinema. A truth that he felt was lacking in theatre because it relied on the performances of actors to convey feelings and emotions. He thought that actors had too many tricks and were so wrapped up in technique that they couldn’t convey what he wanted.

What seperated film from theatre for him was that you could convey feelings and ideas through purely cinematic techniques such as composition. He was the most pure of filmmakers. He eschewed music as much as he could and rarely used camera movements. I’ve heard that he also never used wideangle or zoom lenses because he felt that they distorted the world. Maybe if he had been trying to tell an effective story, different lenses would have been important but for him there was something much more important at stake. Because of this, he only used a “normal lens” which sees the world in the same way the human eye does.

Au Hasard Balthazar by Robert BressonOf course, there were his actors. Bresson only used non-professional actors whom he forced to redo scenes over and over to the point of exhaustion until all traces of “performance” were stripped away. This would allow the camera to penetrate the raw emotions of the characters and it works to stunning effect. His films are sincere without being earnest and they’re moving without being manipulative.

The strongest influence on Bresson seems to have been his Catholicism. Salvation, redemption, suffering, and the nature of the human soul are common themes in his work. His films also often deal with the struggle between creating your own path in life or submitting to some sort of destiny. Yet, Bresson’s works transcend any religious pigeonholing. They hit you on a human level because the moral and philosophical situations depicted in his works are so familiar.

[ADBLOCKHERE]Jean Luc Godard described Au Hasard Balthazar as, “the world in an hour in a half.” He couldn’t be more correct. Bresson brings you a world you’re completely familiar with, yet with his austere style he shows it to you in a way you’ve never experienced. He doesn’t judge, he merely opens your eyes to things that were always in front of you. As stated in Diary of a Country Priest and demonstrated in Bresson’s films, in his world, all is grace.

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