Sunday, December 11, 2016

"Bresson on Bresson: Interviews 1943-1983" by Robert Bresson (New York Review of Books)

ISBN: 978-1-68137-044-6 nyrb

Once you see a film by Robert Bresson, you will never forget it.   It seems nothing is happening, but the truth is everything is happening.   The emotions are usually muted, and the actions of the models (not actors, will get to that later) are choreographed to a certain degree.  My first Bresson film was “Pickpocket, ” a story about a pickpocket artist who works his way in various train stations and public places, including buses/subways.  It’s nerve wracking watching close up of hands doing their magic, by appearing in stranger’s pockets, or in a woman’s bag or purse.  The film goes on a relaxing pace, but the intensity is severe.  It’s a strange mixture, where scenes are slowed down, to heighten the emotion of that scene.   Bresson didn’t make that many films in his long life, but each one is a remarkable work.  

“Bresson on Bresson: Interviews 1943-1983, chapter-by-chapter, cover each of his 13 films.  This is not something like the Hitchcock/Truffaut book, where each film is exposed by the second.   No, this basically a series of interviews with Bresson and his methods in working.  What’s unusual about him is that Bresson mostly used amateur actors in his productions.  He didn’t like actors, at least in his films.  A big concern for him is that cinematography (his term for the cinema) is a separate art from the theater - and he felt that the theater had too much of a presence in the cinema.  He comments that a painting (he was a painter) on a canvas is totally different from seeing a photograph of that painting - and therefore the acting profession comes from the theater - and that is not the right procedure for the cinema.   In his opinion most films are a reflection of the theater arts - and he feels that film is an art by itself.  An even greater art than theater.  It’s an interesting argument or position.   It is also what makes his films so unique to this very day.  

Bresson had a very rigid point of view with respect to art making - and the specifics of making cinema.  He preferred to use the term ‘model’ instead of actor - and he didn’t want anything theatrical coming of the model’s mouth or their gestures.  Also the same with the theory of not changing the lens on the movie camera, because in his thinking, people don’t change their glasses on a consistent basis.  So there must be a consistency of some sort.  Still, Bresson's films are overwhelming with feeling.   “Bresson on Bresson” is a classic book and anyone who even has the slightest interest in being a filmmaker or even artist - must read and learn.   An excellent companion piece to his book of writings “Notes on the Cinematograph. ”

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