Two Robert Bresson films (1943/1969)

A brace of rather contrasting Bressons, rare compared to most of his other films, and both of which I found on Youtube (I don’t know if they’re available otherwise), which I’m bringing under one header as I couldn’t really be arsed reviewing them individually.

Les anges du péché (1943): Bresson’s first feature (I can’t track down that short he made in 1934). This was, obviously, before he became “Robert Bresson”, if you know what I mean, and accordingly lacking in his later trademarks; there’s a score, professional actors, honest expression of emotions… but there’s also his Catholicism, as expressed in the setting, a Dominican convent which specialises in taking in women just released from prison, plus other newcomers like Anne-Marie; wanting to do good, she latches onto a prison girl called Therese, who takes up the convent’s offer of sanctuary on her release… after murdering the ex-boyfriend who sent her to jail in the first place. Even if this weren’t a Bresson film, you’d know it could only end badly, which it surely does. It’s not bad, but—much like yesterday’s obscure Dreyer film—I doubt many would care about it if weren’t for Bresson’s name in the credits.

Une femme douce (1969): Bresson’s first colour feature. By this time his style was well established, but colour didn’t really seem to add much (though it is momentarily startling during the opening credits just because it is in colour, it doesn’t seem right somehow), at least not in this case (or maybe it’s the ho-hum colours of the VHS source?). Certainly it adds no interest to the story, updated from Dostoyevsky, which begins with its unhappy ending—young woman leaps from balcony to her death—then spends the next 90 minutes explaining how this comes about: she (never actually named) marries young pawnbroker after he keeps pursuing her, which only serves to take her out of one unhappy life and drop her in another. Neither party comes across as especially appealing: he seems particularly dense, less considerate of her than himself, but she offers not much more, and the longer the film goes on (and oh it’s a long 90 minutes) the more I wanted to just thump them both. Bresson’s “model” theory and his leeching of expressiveness from his performers seemed like more of an affectation than ever; these people seemed even less real than Bresson’s characters usually do. With nothing to particularly feel for them, I just found this a dreadful bore.

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