Robert Bresson: A Spiritual Style in Film

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Continuum, 2003 - Performing Arts - 199 pages
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Although Robert Bresson is widely regarded by movie critics and students of the cinema as one of the greatest directors of the twentieth century, his films are largely unknown and are rarely shown in the English-speaking world. Nonetheless, Susan Sontag has called Bresson "the master of the reflective mode in film."The present book, which introduces Bresson's movies to a broader audience, assesses thirteen of his most significant films in the context of detailed plot summaries, vivid descriptions of characters and settings, and perceptive, jargon-free insights into the director's execution, intention, and technique. Among these films, made between 1943 and 1983, are Diary of a Country Priest, A Man Escaped, Pickpocket, The Trial of Joan of Arc, Au Hasard Balthasar, Mouchette, A Gentle Woman, Lancelot of the Lake, and L'Argent. Each of these films in its own way illustrates what Joseph Cunneen calls Bresson's "spiritual style." Though not necessarily focused on the explicitly religious, they illustrate two complementary principles: on the negative side, the rejection of what the director called "photographed theater" with its artificiality and dependence on celebrity performers. On the more positive side, as Bresson himself expressed it, the conviction that, "The supernatural is only the real rendered more precise; real things seen close up." Being equally adamant about both these principles, he often had difficulty getting financial backing, and this in turn resulted in his having to abandon his long-cherished hope of making a movie on the biblical book of Genesis. Nevertheless, because of these firmly held principles, Martin Scorsese suggested that a young filmmaker should ask: "Is it as tough as Bresson?... Is [meaning] as ruthlessly pared down, as direct, as unflinching in its gaze at aspects of life I might feel more comfortable ignoring?"Questions that every reader of this book and every viewer of Bresson's films will also ask.

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Robert Bresson: a spiritual style in film

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Although over his long life (1901-99) Bresson only directed 13 films, his unique, austere style, combined with his intensely religious, "distinctly Catholic sensibility," set him apart on the world ... Read full review

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References to this book

The Cinema of France
Phil Powrie
Limited preview - 2006

About the author (2003)

Joseph Cunneen is co-founder of the international quarterly Cross Currents where he was also editor for nearly half a century. He has published studies on the film makers Kieslowski, Rohmer, Tarkovsky, and Bresson, and has contributed articles on religious and cultural issues to such journals as America, Commonweal, Esprit, Midstream, and The Nation.

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