Monday, Jan. 4, 2010

Robert Bresson

A Passion for Film

By David Luhrssen
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Robert Bresson was among the most distinctive 20th century French directors, a filmmaker following his own course apart from any wave, old or new. In Robert Bresson: A Passion for Film (published by Oxford University Press), Tony Pipolo describes the director of The Trial of Joan of Arc and A Man Escaped as ďa truly unique modernistĒ whose ambition was ďto chasten the art of cinema,Ē purging it of all roots in theater and concentrating on the distinct attributes of film.

Bresson was not without influence on his contemporaries, helping set an example of sparseness by filtering out extraneous details and dialogue in favor of an intense focus on the essential characters or objects at hand. His content was as interesting as his form. Not unlike Ingmar Bergman, Bresson was concerned with the problem of good and evil, of a God who seemed more visible for his absence than his presence. Marxist dogmatists accused him of the unpardonable sin of being Roman Catholic, but Pipolo presents a more nuanced and ambiguous investigation of the perspective behind Bressonís films. Referencing the directorís love for adapting the work of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, both formidable critics of Catholicism, Pipolo cites another of Bressonís favorite authors, Georges Bernanos, in identifying the filmmakerís affinity for the saints of the Catholic Church, not the Church itself. His protagonists often pursue their destiny without hatred or pettiness in stories without cheap sentiment or hollow drama.

A psychoanalyst as well a professor of film and literature at City University of New York, Pipolo has written a learned book in the best sense, drawing a portrait of Bresson not by hearsay but through informed, thoughtful consideration of his work in film.

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