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Tim Cawkwell's Cinema

Intelligible writing on intelligent film, plus some poetry

Reflections on Bresson 13: Influence

Have Bresson's ideas about grace as expressed in the films in the first half of his career been influential? I would like to say yes, but the truth is no – at least, I think it is.

Have Bresson's ideas about using 'models', not actors, been influential? I wish they had, but the truth at the moment is definitely no. Actorly performance as a criterion for judging films remains as widespread as ever.

Has the economy of Bresson's narrative style been influential? I think we live in an age of cinematic hyperbole, so again I would dearly like this to be the case but am pessimistic, at least some of the time. And then I am an optimist again. Bresson's stylistic quality is for all ages and will be copied for a long time to come.

Take the Pole Krzysztof Kieslowski. I don't know whether he is on record as an admirer of Bresson (although both filmmakers’ preoccupation with free will suggests a strong affinity), but watching Kieslowski's late work again (Dekalog, La Double Vie de Véronique, the Three Colours trilogy) made me think of Bresson's style constantly – because Kieslowski is a master of narrative economy too.

Consider also the sequence in La Double Vie where Véronique uses a cassette tape to determine how she might find the marionettist. It is a question of listening to sounds and interpreting them to create a narrative. This is a wonderful use of Bresson’s idea about the creative ear in the cinema.

Then there is the fascination with sounds in Three Colours: Red. When Valentine's car hits something, we are in suspense from the sound as to what it might be. It turns out to be a dog – this surprises us, dismays us, makes us think about what is the right thing for Valentine to do. Then again, the rocks thrown through the judge’s windows are heralded by the crash of glass. Our first thought is what, as we try to interpret the sound; our second thought is why. More suspense.

And consider too when Valentine returns the dog she has injured. She has to open the front door to enter a house she has never been in, owned by a man she has never met. This is the act of will which precipitates the drama of the relationship between her and the judge. I thought instantly of Bresson's use of doors.

And in the Sight and Sound poll of 850 film-makers and critics to ask their opinions on the best films, no-one had more on the final list of 250 films than Bresson. That's a happy ending of a kind.

© Tim Cawkwell

January 2012