Preparing to write what was supposed to be review, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Robert Bresson. An undeniable master of cinema, his status is such that J Hoberman believes that “To not get Bresson is to not get the idea of motion pictures.” But what does it mean to “get” Bresson? Does one need to see and feel the director’s profound Catholicism to fully understand his films? Should we enjoy his work, or simply seek to absorb his wisdom? I don’t know.
But what I do know is this: when I think of Bresson, specific things come to mind. Suffering. The way hands move when they close a door. Pain. The feather-light touch it takes to lift a wallet. The sound of footsteps. Terror. Self-loathing. The sensuality of small, mechanical actions. Inexplicable love. Brutality. Disgust. The unforgivable way we treat one another. Escape. Desperation.
Others will find grace, and redemption. Understanding, perhaps. A love for humanity. Perfection, even. And it is all there - every bit of it. The glorious thing about Bresson, I think - what truly makes him great - is that his films are big enough for everyone. He worked hard to make this so, reducing his actors to emotionless “models,” and paring dialog and interpretation down to a minimum. It is left entirely up to the viewer to decide what things mean, and why they happen. The confidence it takes to leave the meaning of one’s own precious art so completely in the hands of another is unimaginable, and his firm possession of it is why Bresson is so valued today.
A stunning new print of Pickpocket (1959) will show for a week at New York’s Film Forum starting today, followed by a week of Mouchette (1967). Both will be touring the usual repertory houses (Pickpocket will also be in Seattle at the Northwest Film Forum the week of October 21 and at Boston's MFA October 28 and 29), and a feature-filled DVD of Pickpocket is on the way from Criterion. Seeing them will screw with your head, move you in weird ways, and complicate the hell out of your life, which is about the highest praise I can offer.