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Found 9 results

  1. Earlier this year, I saw "Au Hasard Balthazar," and I needed no convincing of its greatness. I was overwhelmed. This weekend, I saw "A Man Escaped." And while I can see that everything in it is well executed, I was not particularly moved by it. It did build a lot of suspense and hope. And the differing personalities and perspectives were interesting. But I get the feeling there's a lot I'm missing here, and I'd love to hear those on the board who love it so much expound upon its greatness.
  2. Finally caught up with this the other night. I posted the following on my blog, but thought since this film was in the top 100, it deserved a thread of its own. Robert Bresson's 1962 version of this famous historical event, based entirely on the minutes from the trial, provides a claustrophobic, reverent, and surprisingly brisk walk through significant moments in Joan's final days. Clocking in at a mere 61 minutes, Bresson's frequent cuts make the film feel even faster than it is. Constantly the camera cuts away from Joan to those scrutinizing her, and then back again. Some look upon her with sympathetic eyes, though most feel little beyond disdain for her, most often, it seems, for political, rather than exclusively religious reasons. This way of shooting and editing the piece serves to heighten Joan's alienation from those around her. The trial tends to focus on religious elements, which makes sense, since Joan was tried by an ecclesiastical court, headed by the Bishop of Beauvais, Pierre Cauchon. However, there was far more in play here beyond a simple theological dispute. Joan, having been involved in what amounts to a civil war in 15th century France, had been captured by the Burgundians and sold to their English allies. It was under these inauspicious circumstances that the trial was conducted. Bresson cleverly highlights the political nature of the trial with brief scenes before and after the day's proceedings or in and around Joan's cell. The bulk of the action takes place in the courtroom � a theologically driven question and answer between judges and accused that sees Joan fielding questions from at least three different men who often attempt to trip her up with their adroit queries. Most interesting about the film is Bresson's focus on the physicality of his characters. In typical Bresson fashion, he focuses his camera on the bodies of his actors, especially their hands and feet. The opening shot of the film pictures the walking feet of three people (including Joan's mother), on their way to Joan's rehabilitation trial some 25 years after her death. Once there, Joan's mother is held up by the hands of monks on either side of her. As she's turned away from the camera, reading a prepared piece about Joan, those helping hands are the most notable elements in the shot. Contrast that opening sequence with the film's conclusion, as Joan makes the long walk to her place of execution. Bresson refuses to point the camera at her face, preferring instead to show her bare feet, in a continuous shot, walking along the broken stone. In this sequence, the feet of many onlookers stand in the background, one of whom even sticks his foot out to trip her (in case one wondered if they had any pity for her). Then, as Joan is being consumed by flames, Bresson shoots part of the scene from behind, where we see her hands, chained to the post, reach out in pain. Joan's naked feet and chained hands are quite a contrast from the clothed feet and soft hands of the intro. Yet, even in that most difficult moment when Joan is so alone, those naked feet are a marked contrast from her chained feet throughout the trial. Consider the first time she is brought back to her room. The guard chains her foot to the immovable beam as Joan weeps at the edge of the bed. She is captive, with no sign it will end. Yet as the film concludes, and Joan makes that long walk over the stony path, her feet, while naked and accompanied only by a dangling cross, are free as they move toward impending death. There is a courage in those bare feet, a courage that evokes the one to whom she serves and entrusts herself.
  3. 12/12/03 Transcendent, wrenching 'Balthazar' French director Robert Bresson's 1966 film is being redistributed; there is no more important movie now in theaters. � By Manohla Dargis LA Times Some years before he died, the French director Robert Bresson gave an interview to film critic Michel Ciment. Bresson was in his early 80s and had recently completed "L'Argent." The film, Bresson's last, concerns a man who commits a murder for money but like many of the director's stories is essentially about the crimes committed against the soul. "The only things that matter are invisible," Bresson told Ciment. "Why are we here? What are life and death? Where are we going? Who is responsible for the miracle of animal and vegetable life?" �I don't have a clue about the last three of Bresson's questions, but I'm certain that an answer to the first can be found in his work. Among the greatest filmmakers of the last century, Bresson is one of the few directors for whom cinema was both an aesthetic and spiritual pursuit, a search that was reflected in films for which the words "sublime," "transcendent" and "masterpiece" can seem somehow lacking. That his 13 features remain largely unknown and unavailable in this country (only one is available here on DVD) is a measure of our impoverished film culture and a reason why one of the heroes of the movie year is Rialto Pictures, the New York distributor reissuing Bresson's "Au hasard Balthazar." The film opens today at the Nuart and there is no more important movie in theaters. Released in 1966, "Balthazar" tells the wrenching story of a donkey and the country girl who grows up with him, Marie (Anne Wiazemsky, who was then, like most of Bresson's actors, a nonprofessional). The film opens with a young donkey being taken in by a farmer as a pet for his children, including his ailing daughter. Marie, the daughter of a schoolteacher, lives with her family in a house owned by the farmer. Her closest companion is the farmer's son, Jacques, with whom she shares a child's romantic passion. After Jacques' sister dies, the farmer moves his family away, leaving behind Marie's family and the donkey, whom the children have christened Balthazar. Time passes and Balthazar is sold to a succession of owners, undergoing a crucible of suffering that parallels that of Marie. With "Balthazar" Bresson wanted to tell the story of human vice, as told through a donkey who represents both purity and sexuality. The donkey, Bresson said, "has in his life the same stages as does a man, that is to say, childhood, caresses; maturity, work; talent, genius in the middle of life; and the analytical period that precedes death." During his short, hard life, Balthazar moves from one group of inattentive owners to the next and in his passage suffers from what makes us suffer, including pride, lust and greed. Marie's father sells him to work at a bakery, where he's abused by a thug in a motorcycle jacket. Later, Balthazar passes into the cruel, careless hands of a miser, who flogs the animal as it walks around a mill, pumping the costly mineral water so beloved by the French. Village Voice critic J. Hoberman has observed that "Balthazar" is about a donkey in the way "Moby-Dick" is about a whale. Melville's novel is certainly about an animal � its meat, its appetites, its terrifying power � but it is also about heroic struggle, a search for faith and man's drive to dominate the natural world. "Moby-Dick" is also, importantly, about its author's own heroic and triumphant effort to wrench something great out of his creative consciousness, which echoes Bresson's struggle to turn movies into art. But whereas with "Moby-Dick" Melville could achieve greatness by fusing different literary forms, Bresson believed cinema could achieve the condition of art only if it did not mimic literature and theater. His aspiration was nothing less than pure cinema. That sounds daunting and dusty in the manner of three-hour art movies, but Bresson's films are models of aesthetic economy ("Balthazar" runs a fleet 95 minutes). Stripped of narrative fat and yet filled with meaningful event, the films possess a rigor that seems ascetic by our busy standards. The director was fond of photographing hands � he posed them with the care of a Renaissance painter � and he liked to show people passing through doorways amid coming and going. If in Bresson's films nothing ever seems out of place or superfluous it's because he strove to find the essential truth of the image. Not an image or sound is wasted � or offered up in self-glorification � and from such seeming simplicity there arises a world of feeling. One of Bresson's self-directed dictums was to "hide the ideas, but so that people find them. The most important will be the most hidden." In "Au hasard Balthazar," some of the most important and hidden of those ideas concern faith and the fallen world. For much of film history, moviegoers regularly talked about what was once somewhat quaintly called "the seventh art." It's rare today that movies and art are discussed in the same breath, proof perhaps of another fallen world. The relentless commercialization of movies is understandable; people get rich off movies and all power to them. But there are other kinds of movies, and while it is no longer fashionable to talk about those that stir you � those movies you carry inside you and that press on your chest � they exist nonetheless.
  4. A succint and excellent article on the spiritual context of Bresson's Lancelot du lac can be found in the latest Senses of Cinema.
  5. Notes � DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST Fresh from viewing the film, I want to jot down impressions while the film is still fresh, before wading into discussion or reading about it, having meticulously avoided learning about it in advance. Just now scanned for a thread on the film, and while it's mentioned elsewhere, I don't see a dedicated thread. And if any film deserves one at A&F, I think DIARY just might qualify! Apart from the moments when God intervenes � giving him words to say, the knowledge of the letter in the Count�s daughter�s pocket, etc � this young priest seems woefully, distinctly unsuited for the priesthood. The catechism class is dreadful � he doesn�t have the gifts for this work. When he realized he�d been set up by the girls for the remark about his eyes, he received this as if it were a crucifixion, a terrible cruelty � I could only think, �Com one, these are twelve year old girls, you�re the grown up here.� Reminded me of a long-time friend of mine, ultra-sensitive, intensely introspective, keyed to every doubt or slight or wavering in his inner spiritual state: is this sainthood, or spiritual narcissism? Hard to shed many tears about his via dolorosa when the wounds are so slight. Except, he is what he is: his skin really is that thin, and he has nowhere to turn for any help, no one to deliver him from this body of death, this raw-nerve-ending psyche. The objective reality/weight of the external causes for woe are irrelevent to the reality of suffering for the clinically depressed person: I can feel (another friend�s) agony regardless of his external circumstances. And I did feel a similar compassion for this tightly-wound, acutely sensitive priest: he felt agonies that would never touch his mentor, the robust meat-eating priest in the nearby village. If it weren�t for the reality of his supernatural insights, I would take the priest as a hyper-sensitive neurotic, and feel pity if not admiration for him � a response not far removed from the contemptuous dismissal of the people in his parish, perhaps. But there�s no denying the reality of his spiritual acuity at certain moments. Or his efficacy as a priest, if not in the day-to-day parish work, certainly in specific moments / relationships. He speaks directly, with clarity and wisdom, to the Countess about the state of her soul, prepares her for death, serves as a midwife for her birth into eternity. His presence in the life of the defrocked priest toward the end of the film effects a connection between that man � caught up in an intellectual idolatry, and a less dire sexual compromise � and the mentor priest who has been so important to the Country Priest. Is the country priest never named? How odd. Is this because our perspective on the story is so close to his, our window into the world limited to his diary? Or because his individuality (in an earthly sense) is unimportant, his name or biographical details � perhaps his anonymity is part of the smalness, humility, off-to-the-sideness of his life. (I think here of the Auden poem about Breughel.) Amplified off-camera sounds important, as in MAN ESCAPED, although not as situation-specific (as they would be for a man in prison); cock crows, dog barks, motorcycle, gun shots, footsteps, maybe cows? Memorable images: priest walking away in dark curving street near end of film. Priest coming down askew hillside with gnarled bare tree, just before fainting in the mud. Working on his diary with wine in lower left corner of composition, near end of film. The wine spilled, black as ink. I wonder about that final cross image, so spare and stylized, almost like a flag or a logo. The defrocked priest�s girlfriend is an interesting sacrifice: refused marriage so that her man can return to the priesthood unencumbered should that day come, counting herself as dispensible for the greater good of his return to vocation. The priest�s raw-nerve-ending sensitivity not only exaggerated the slights and sufferings he experienced, but sensitized him to experience as joy the small pleasures that would pass by a more �normal� person: the ease of early morning prayers, the cup of coffee, the motorcycle ride. And what a remarkable epiphany that ride is, to a man whose life has been so timid, small, constrained, apologetic, inward-focused. What a remarkable epiphany that ride is, open horizon and sky in a film that has been closed-in, interior, clouded, all gates and bars, bare trees and mud and stone walls. What a remarkable epiphany that smile is, after an hour and a half of stone faces, calculating eyes, pain and confusion. It seemed so odd to me that the story of a man working out his calling in a specific parish would end outside the parish. In a more conventional story, all the events and circumstances and relationships built throughout the film culminate in the climactic events: I imagined some terrible betrayal by people in the parish that would provide the priest with his inevitable-from-the-outset crucifixion (what else would you expect for a man so ill-placed in the world, whose entire diet is the flesh and blood of Him who was crucified?). It felt strangely detached for him to meet his end in a different place, with people we�d never met, almost anti-climactic. One thing that says to me is that the focus is entirely inward/spiritual, on the priest and the state of his soul, not outward/social, on relationships and interpersonal actions. It partakes of the same other-worldy quasi-narcissism that makes me nervous in the priest himself, but it is what it is, and gives me much to contemplate. How odd that the priest ends up holding the older priest in the nearby village in such esteem, his mentor/master. The two are constitutionally/tempermentally so very different, the mentor forceful and robust, unlikely (and unwilling) to be wounded or even troubled by the pettiness of his parishoners or the privations of his work. Apart from his authoritarianism, I would naturally tend to favour the latter�s approach: it seems healthier, wiser, less neurotic, simply more grown-up. But the young priest�s �hyper-sensitivity� to the small cruelties and petty immoralities of his parishioners is in fact a truer spiritual discernement: he is deeply troubled, grieved, wounded, appalled by their small moral lapses, perceiving them as things which fundamentally alienate them from God. And the film is pretty clear that the younger priest is right in his approach, right to take these petty things with such seriousness. And it convinces me of the same. (I�m also overstating my reaction to the older priest: as much as I percieved Young Priest as hyper-sensitive, I saw Older Priest as insensitive, or at least under-sensitive.) As the film drew to a close, I couldn�t help thinking how easily the priest was getting off: dying from stomach cancer can be a much more agonizing, protracted and demeaning process than he experiences: get the diagnosis, drink the coffee, go to friend�s apartment, vomit up blood, die. Then it occurred to me that we�d been watching his protracted death through the whole film: every minute onscreen, he was dying of stomach cancer, unknown to us or him. And suddenly my perception of him as ultra-sentitive, not really a hero, not facing difficulties that were nearly as great as he made them out to be, was fundamentally changed: I�d been watching a man dying of cancer, who in fact made very little of his own suffering, which must have been tremendous. What a stunning reversal of my perceptions, and what artistry on behalf of Bresson, or Bernanos, or whoever should get credit for constructing the story in that way. What an extraordinary companion piece, then, to IKIRU, where we learn in the opening frames that Mr Watanabe will die of stomach cancer within a certain number of months, though he does not realize that fact yet. In both films we observe a man dying of the same horrific malady, and in neither is that information meted out in a conventional way. Kurosawa delivers it immediately, taking away all the potential (conventional) dramatic impact of the revelation, stripping the story of any potential for a certain kind of melodrama (though maximizing the story�s potential pathos). Bresson withholds the information until very nearly the final moments of the film, though we�ve been observing the disease and its progress throughout � by this he accomplishes a last-minute re-interpretation on the viewer�s part of all that has gone before. (Though I�m sure some other viewers anticipated that development long before, and the information was more an inevitable confirmation than a revelation: they would experience the film differently. But I have to think that my response to the film is partly engendered by Bresson/Bernanos: there are dozens (hundreds?) of story/filmic elements that incline me to perceive the priest as a weak man rather than a strong man, over-sensitive rather than heroic. I have to blame B&B � they set me up!) I�m puzzled by the section in the film when the young priest talks about the realization that he and his mentor would be parting ways from that point on: it seemed to me that the two men were really connecting for the first time. I liked the fact that the young priest�s re-connection with his seminary acquaintance has initiated a reconnection to faith and the church, that the alienated priest has written an extensive letter to the older priest, and will be meeting him. I can�t help but think he�ll get his faith and vocation restored to him through the encounter. (How wonderful that this passing of the spiritual flame is accomplished through a typed letter, echoing/reinventing the film's repeated mode of discourse, the hand-written diary.) A favourite favourite scene for me was when Seraphima (?) finds the young priest in the mud and cleans him up. So tender, such a reversal of my perceptions of the girl, restoring some of the goodness/innocence I perceived in her (along with the young priest) when first we met her in the catechism class. What a nuanced, complex portrait, this young woman who schemes and manipulates but also does things to keep the priest in her life (at least, that�s what I make of the briefcase in the mud), who cleans the vomit from the faces of the boys who drink too much at the town dances as readily as she cleans the mud and blood from the face of the priest. I remember that early moment where the young priest yearns for some human kindness or contact: to think that, in a sense, we live with that unfulfilled longing for all this time, and that it�s fulfilled so unexpectedly by this girl, growing up cruel in a heartless place. Those reversals of character perceptions are a common element of this film (as they are in IKIRU, interestingly enough). I think of the Count�s daughter: we first meet her in the church, praying and hiding her tears, and later learn that she has given the priest a note encouraging him to leave the parish for his own protection: of course, the latter gesture is not the act of friendship I first took it for. But even once we perceive her as something of a demon, our perceptions continue to be shaken, in the final extended scene she has with the young priest: her soul is in jeopardy, but not yet lost; a liar (his unwillingness to hear/trust her confession is a potent expression of how corrupted she has become) and manipulator, but there is still some attraction toward truth: in fact, she is not a demon, but simply a human. Thoughts, anyone?
  6. MattPage

    Mouchette (1967)

    We don't yet have a thread on Bresson's Mouchette, although it's discussed quite a bit in the Rosetta thread. Anyway, anyone who (like me) would like to see it but doesn't want to buy the DVD (yet) might be interested to know it's showing on BBC4 tomorrow at 11:30pm. Details here I'm hoping to video it at least and catch it at some point, so I thought there might be one or two other UK A&F-ers who might want to see it and be up for discussing it with anyone else that's seen it. Matt
  7. Doug C

    Pickpocket (1959)

    A new print will play at the Film Forum in October (and hopefully travel around) and the Criterion Collection will release a DVD in November. http://www.filmforum.org/films/pickpocket.html
  8. [Post deleted for out of date material.]
  9. I thought y'all might find this interesting
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