WHO is he?
Celebrated French film director and writer who made 13 feature films in a period spanning 40 years between the 40s and the 80s. Bresson saw cinema as a medium deriving not from theatre or photography but as an independent medium with its own potential and challenges. He documented his theory of cinema through Zen-like aphorisms in the book Notes on Cinematography (1975).
WHAT are his films about?
Bresson’s films have widely been regarded as ‘transcendental’, as films in which characters transcend their material reality to attain Divine Grace. The idea that such grace is random and can be bestowed on any living creature — a priest, a pickpocket or a donkey — is not only a theme that permeates his filmography, but is also reflected in his own filmmaking method, wherein he believed that one can obtain the right shot only by ‘accident’ and randomness. By making randomness a part of his artistry, Bresson overrides the idea that a work of art is entirely the creation of its author.
Bresson wanted to rid his cinema of the influence of theatre, which included naturalistic or expressionistic acting styles. The actors — ‘models’, as he called them — in his films do not emote and their blank, expressionless faces become a screen on to which we project our own emotions. Bresson uses numerous close-ups of hands and feet in his films, further undermining the identities of actors. The judicious use of sound, especially off-screen sound that complements the image rather than compounding it, is a distinct feature of Bresson’s cinema.
WHY is he of interest?
Bresson had a profound influence on Paul Schrader, who has written extensively about and paid tribute to his cinema, Kumar Shahani, who assisted him on one of his films, and Mani Kaul, who is arguably the most astute student of Bresson’s school of cinematography. Contemporaries such as Andrei Tarkovsky, Jean Cocteau and Marguerite Duras and the critic-filmmakers of the French New Wave held him in very high regard.
WHERE to discover him?
Pickpocket (1959), loosely based on Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (1866), centres on the eponymous thief who tries in vain to find his footing in life. Bresson’s typically, thoroughly anti-psychological film replaces motive with unexplained action and strips the story of coherent psychological analysis, producing a film where the audience is freed of all emotional manipulation.