When I started The Bureau, it was my intention to only write about things that I had enjoyed. I didn’t see the point of bringing something up just to beat on it. I rented “Lola Montez” thinking I would be writing about a masterpiece but ended up writing about the film I had actually seen.
I watched about 20 minutes of Robert Bresson’s “Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne” some months ago before turning it off in boredom. I wondered if I should give it another chance, since I had watched it after a big meal with wine, but the DVD sat around and I finally sent it back to Netflix.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I had my pocket picked on the Paris Metro this past summer. I’ve told the tale to all who would listen since I at least got a story for my lost Euros and inconvenience. One of the people who heard the story mentioned that Bresson had a film about a Paris pickpocket. Voilà, I could give the famous filmmaker one more chance.
I started watching Bresson's "Pickpocket" in the late afternoon, fully alert. Initially I was interested, but I rapidly noted that everyone in it was wooden, dour and, when called upon to portray any emotion, incredibly inept. It was like watching a zombie film without any gore or humor. I turned it off after 45 minutes, mystified.
I looked Bresson up on the invaluable Wikipedia and it all became clear. Here’s the description of his method with actors:
“With his 'actor-model' technique, Bresson's actors were required to repeat multiple takes of each scene until all semblances of 'performance' were stripped away, leaving a stark effect that registers as both subtle and raw, and one that can only be found in the cinema.”
“Some feel that Bresson's Catholic upbringing and Jansenist belief-system lie behind the thematic structure of most of his films.”
I felt like a complete bozo. Over the years I’d read critics who mentioned his asceticism or his nonprofessional actors or his stylized acting methods but no one just came out and said that he was making Catholic zombie pageants! If that’s your taste, fine, but I got my degree from a Jesuit university in the last year of the Johnson administration and turned my back on that stuff forever.
On the plus side I can take M. Bresson off the list of directors whose films I really ought to take a look at.