film 2 of 5


Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 3, 2015

I was stunned, I was decimated when first I saw this movie. I’ve repeated that experience, since then. Not so many movies get better and better, every time you see them. What’s the cause? Where does this rare thing, this exalted and exalting feeling come from?

In one sense, the component parts of Robert Bresson’s bolt-of-lightning can be clearly identified, or measured. There are helpfully familiar precedents: Crime and Punishment, of course, A Christmas Carol, Frank Borzage’s Strange Cargo (very possibly inadvertent, but with productive similarities, nevertheless). The film’s meaning is, in a certain sense, pretty clear. One of the clearest things is not so much a meaning as a feeling, which is rooted in, derived from its profound and palpable physicality. The craft, the texture and timing of these crimes make for some of the most electrifying montage sequences ever assembled in any film, ever. Supreme craft is a pretty profound thing, but Bresson goes further than that, and deeper. For him, Michel, the protagonist’s pickpocketing is also an emblem of the self-absorption, the self-justification (c.f. FD’s Crime and Punishment, pt. III, ch. 5) and, simply, the sin that keep us from God, and from each other.

Dostoyevski counters and conquers his erring protagonist’s dire and damnable self-absorption, of course, as do Dickens and Borzage. Bresson’s film deserves, even urgently demands to be mentioned in the same breath as these other prodigies. Michel’s friends, and the constabulary that encroaches so gently upon him—agents of kindliness and mercy, and of Godly ministration! Jeanne’s sorrows. The music of Jean-Baptiste Lully, signifying as the sound of God’s reclamation, or even of his simple and constant interest. Electrifying, sensuous cinematic sequences: the lesson, the bank, the train. Eyes and ears to see and hear as our threshold of significance (David Bordwell, 1981) increases.

In another sense this prodigious thing is really the wind blowing as it lists, the mystery of God—and his cinematic servants, however inadvertent their ministration—moving in power and majesty.