Robert Bresson

Robert Bresson

Robert Bresson is often referred to as a ‘patron saint’ of cinema, not only for the strong Catholic themes found throughout his work, but also for his notable contributions to the art of film. Bresson’s work, most famously Diary of a Country Priest (1951), A Man Escaped (1956), Pickpocket (1959), Au Hasard Balthazar (1966), Mouchette (1967) and L’ Argent (1983) all center around the harsh themes of salvation, redemption, grief, cruelty and the defining and revealing of the human soul. Bresson’s films can also be understood as critiques of French society and the wider world, with each revealing the director’s sympathetic if unsentimental view on its victims. Even though Bresson was raised in a strict Catholic upbringing he eventually became an Agnostic and focused his Catholic teachings within the thematic framework of many of his stories. Once when asked about his beliefs, Bresson simply called himself a ‘Christian Atheist.’ The director’s main artistic focus was to separate the language of cinema from that of the theater, which often relies heavily upon the actor’s performance to drive the work. To achieve this Bresson purposely casted nonprofessional actors and used their inexperience to create a specific type of stark and raw realism in his films. Bresson famously became known for creating the ‘actor-model’ technique and considered his actors less as actors and more as dolls. He forbid his models to act or show much emotion shooting the same shot 10, 20, or even 50 times, until all acting was drained from the characters faces and the actors were simply performing the actions and speaking the words. Bresson tended to not shoot character’s faces as much as the fragmentation of their body parts, for which he focused on legs, torsos, feet and hands, creating a more naturalistic and organic power. Bresson believed that actors, indeed acting itself, were alien to the medium of film, because the camera could detect the slightest sign of artificiality and calculation. He instead sought actors out for their transparent innocence, their virginal presence, and the unstudied nature of their physical gestures. Bresson’s refusal to agree to a cinema dominated by the actor affected the overall look, structure, and tone of his films. Rather than grounding them in performances and dramatic scenes Bresson shifted the emphasis to the inherent aspects of the cinematic medium: the framing, the lighting, duration, camera angles, editing of shots, and the use of sound and off-screen space. In his book, Sculpting in Time, director Andrei Tarkovsky describes Bresson as “perhaps the only artist in cinema, who achieved the perfect fusion of the finished work with a concept theoretically formulated beforehand.” Bresson is known to have influenced various different filmmakers, most famously the French New Wave, as Jean-Luc Godard once described him by writing “Robert Bresson is French cinema, as Dostoevsky is the Russian novel and Mozart is German music.”



Robert Bresson
Robert Bresson Featured Films

Articles and Essays on Robert Bresson

A Man Escaped (1956)

Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped is generally looked at as one of the greatest prison-break movies ever made. The story was inspired by Andre Devigny, a decorated French lieutenant in World War II who escaped from Fort Montlue prison in German-occupied Lyon in 1943. Besides the beginning and final shots of the film, the entire story is […]

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Diary of a Country Priest (1951)

Robert Bresson’s tragic masterpiece The Diary of a Country Priest tells the story of a young priest who becomes a failure. The young man’s face looks withdrawn and solemn throughout the story as he becomes strained trying to carry out the responsible duties of a priest at his new local parish; doing his best in […]

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Pickpocket (1959)

“The style of this film is not that of a thriller. Using image and sound, the filmmaker strives to express the nightmare of a young man whose weaknesses lead him to commit acts of theft for which nothing destined him.” I find these opening credits a curious irony because Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket ‘is’ a thriller; just not the […]

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Through the eyes of an animal

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Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)

Au Hasard Balthazar is one of the most excruciating spiritual experiences I have ever witnessed on the screen and it is directed by the only person that could pull off such a remarkable achievement, the great French director Robert Bresson. It’s a tragic film full of pain, anguish and human suffering, a story that is Bresson’s heartbreaking prayer […]

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Robert Bresson
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