Maybe Robert Breson, like the Jansenist that he was, be the most unorthodox of all the filmmakers brought up in these articles. Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo —one of the great scholars of Catholic orthodoxy, the history of ideas, literature in Spanish, the interpretation of aesthetics and other important knowledge— includes the Jansenists in his History of the heterodox Spaniards (1880-1882). Now that the volumes dedicated to the Protestant Reformation and the Counter-Reformation have been finished, in the volume that deals with the eighteenth century, encyclopedism and the preponderance of French culture, the Jansenists —sworn enemies of the Jesuits—, meanwhile Frenchified, have their own entrance. Certainly the faith of jansenius —who was Bishop of Ypres (1636-1638)— is considered heretical by the Catholic Church.
Already in the first half of the 20th century there came a time, about which Fernando Pessoa, in that “most of the young people had lost their belief in God for the same reason that their elders had: without knowing why.” Increasingly pronounced in its mistrust of old beliefs, this era continues into our 21st century.
Thus, given the skepticism of the common folk regarding these issues —I am the first and one of the most disbelievers—, I know positively that calling attention to a filmmaker by talking about his Jansenism is attracting very few viewers to his filmography.
“For some, Marie’s virtue is platonic; for others, no matter how heretical Bresson was for the Catholic Church, she is that Franciscan love for animals“
Therefore, I will praise a virtue of the great Robert Bresson that is fully in tune with the sensibility of our days: his animalism. If tomorrow, in some film library, a cycle was dedicated to him, through that procedure —“dialogue”, they call it—, by which the great Madrid art galleries confront one artist with another —in principle, alien to each other—, so that the visitor discovers analogies and draw your own conclusions, I would put dialogue Random from Balthazar (Robert Bresson, 1966) with Goodbye Lamb! (1893), the most lyrical and moving tales of Leopoldo Alas, Clarion. Yes sir, there is something in Rosa, the girl who says goodbye to the Lamb, in the Somonte meadow, when the train takes the cow to the slaughterhouse, that dialogue with Marie (Anne Wiazemsky), the young woman from Bresson who is the only good thing that chance has in store for Baltasar —the donkey that gives the film its title—, the only one who does not mistreat him.
For some, Marie’s virtue is platonic; for others, no matter how heretical Bresson was for the Catholic Church, it is that Franciscan love for animals. for the great Godard -whom Balthazar’s chance touched him so closely that Anne Wiazemsky was his second wife—, the film “Sums up the world in an hour and a half”. And if by “world” we understand that journey that takes us from the innocence of children’s games, which Balthazar shares with the children around her —like Rosa and Pinín with the Lamb—, the pettiness and misery of adult life that make Balthazar in a beast of burden, the “world” is recounted with absolute mastery.
“He so scrupulously portrayed the gestures, attitudes and gestures of his nuns that he was able to express his spirituality without resorting in any way to the supernatural.“
His first pictorial and photographic concerns now forgotten, Robert Bresson (Brémont-Lamothe, Auvergne, 1907 – Paris, 1999) became known as a director in the most difficult years for French cinematography throughout the 20th century: those of the German occupation of France. The filmmakers who do not opt for exile, who have brought teachers like Rene Clair, Jean-Renoir either Julien DuvivierThey have to renounce poetic realism as defeatist and the avant-garde as decadent. You can only shoot evasion tapes that do not bother the Germans, or that directly serve their interests.
Marcel l’Herbiera former avant-garde, opts for evasion in the fantastic night (1942); Marcel Carne —the greatest of poetics— does the same and premieres visitors of the night (1942). Bresson, who comes from passing eighteen months confined in a prison camp in Germanyopens with a story told to him by a Swiss Dominican —Raymond Leopold Bruckberger— with whom he has shared his captivity, about the nuns who care for the ex-inmates: the angels of sin (1943). The filmmaker so scrupulously portrayed the gestures, attitudes and gestures of his nuns that he was able to express his spirituality without resorting in any way to the supernatural.
“For our filmmaker, this translates into a staging completely devoid of artifice. Artifices including professional interpretation“
Already with the liberation, it arrives The Ladies of the Bologna Forest (1945). Starring the Spanish Maria Casares, our compatriot will be the only professional actress to collaborate with Robert Bresson. Both Anne Wiazemsky and Dominique Sanda —protagonist of the sweet woman (1969)— were his discoveries that later developed a filmography. But when he hired them, they were unknown to the general public. For Breson, Jansenism was basically austerity, as they are, in fact, this and the rest of the puritanisms for all mortals. But for our filmmaker this translates into a staging completely devoid of artifice. Artifices including professional interpretation.
“You have to abandon the prejudice against simplicity”, declared the filmmaker who, along with Carl Theodor Dreyer, will make the most austere and elevated cinema in all of history. It is by no means free to compare The trial of Jeanne d’Arc (1962) by Bresson with The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) by Dreyer. And, like his Danish colleague in vampire (1932), Bresson is also a master in using the space that is outside the cameraman’s field in allusion to what is shown on the screen. Expanding on his eagerness to strip his speech of all artifice, he manages to make a pure cinema, without an iota of theatrical contamination, without any interpretation. Their actors they move through the field covered by their planes like automata.
“Except The Shadow Armyfew films about the French resistance reach the mastery of A man sentenced to death has escaped“
Over time, the bad conscience created in France during the German occupation will give rise to a whole genre of French cinema: that of resistance. An obsession of the neighboring screen as the Civil War and everything that concerns it will be on ours, from the Second Republic to the Franco regime. The most notable difference between the two monomanias is that the French resistance will also give rise to a whole subgenre of cinema inspired by World War II. Now, except for The Shadow Army (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1970) few films about the French resistance reach the mastery of A man sentenced to death has escaped. Received by critics with an enthusiasm until then only deployed to greet the cinema of the mystics Scandinavians—Dreyer, ingmar bergmanVictor Sjöström—Bresson won the Best Director award at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival.
Their literature —“Cinema is not a photographed spectacle, but a writing”, he maintained— already shows itself stripped of all artifice in The Ladies of the Bologna Forest. Based on a fragment of Jacques the fatalist, by Diderot, in his sequences Bresson offers us one of the most impressive portraits of the feelings that have been on the screen through the spiteful Hélène (María Casares), who takes revenge on Jean (paul bernard), when he leaves her. To this end, he will surreptitiously maneuver until he gets him to marry Agnès (Elina Labourdette), an entertaining one of which he ignores his past, although it constitutes an offense to Jean as a husband.
“Bresson comes to do just the opposite in Journal of a country cure. He went like this in search of the most intimate part of the novel to show it without the slightest concession to cinema as a spectacle.“
“What difference does it make? Everything is already grace!”, says the priest of Ambricourt (Claude Laydu), the protagonist of Journal of a country cure (1951), before handing over the soul. It is Bresson himself who has achieved grace, which in his case could be defined as the perfect harmony between the asceticism of the subject to be portrayed and the austerity of the style when portraying it, or, if the reader prefers, the perfect balance between form and substance. But there is something else. Being the film the adaptation of Diary of a Country Priest (1936), the famous novel by Georges Bernanos, widely translated in Spain, in which the battle against the sin of a young religious man is sublimated, and Bresson being a writer who uses his camera as a way of feather, Journal of a country cure becomes a singular film adaptation.
At the time, the canons mandate that, once a novel is brought to the screen —versions that always tend to obey publishing successes—, the filmmaker goes looking for that image that is worth a thousand words, showing everything that cannot be said . For example: le diable au corps, a commendable film version directed by Claude Autant-Lara in 1947 based on the homonymous novel by Raymond Radiguet. Well, Bresson comes to do exactly the opposite in Journal of a country cure. He went like this in search of the most intimate part of the novel to show it to his viewers without the slightest concession to cinema as a spectacle..
Although his scant commercial success forced him to shoot very occasionally, when he premiered pick pocket (1959), about a pickpocket who ends up finding grace as Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov at the last moment, in that final redemption so Bresson’s, not only revalidates his grace, it also becomes a classic of European cinema. “Bresson is to French cinema what Mozart is to German music”, estimates Godard. Among his later production, all of it outstanding, attention must be drawn to mouchette (1977) and The money (1983), his last tape.