Robert Bresson Gavin Lambert - Essay

Gavin Lambert

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Bresson has … remarked that he does not believe "technique," in the accepted sense of the word, exists; he prefers "L'écriture." "An author writes on the screen, expresses himself by means of photographed shots of variable length, and from variable angles. On an author worthy of the name, a choice is imposed, dictated by his calculations or his instinct, never by chance. For him, and for him alone, once he has worked out his découpage, each shot he takes can have only one definite angle, one certain length of time." Les Anges du Péché certainly gives this impression, and its mastery is none the less remarkable, especially for a first film…. [Though the story written by Jean Giraudoux] has a few of the kind of conventional elements that Bresson was later to reject entirely, already they cannot be accepted on a conventional dramatic level. This is precisely the level that interests Bresson least, and why, no doubt, the film was not popular. For the not always successful plot contrivances are quite obliterated by the film's main purpose, the delineation of a spiritual conflict, exactly analysed, between two young women, against a richly described background of convent life—its ritual, its dedication, its formidable self-discipline and, at times, ruthlessness. (p. 36)

Les Anges du Péché is … less spare than its successors because of its almost exotic settings. The convent rooms and corridors, all white-walled, the black and white habits of the sisters luminously patterned against them, inspire a series of exquisite formal groupings…. Although the background gives it a pictorial richness that can be admired for itself … the emotional force lies completely within the images of faces. (p. 37)

With the movement and the rhythm of the film dictated by its inner development, many of the cinema's devices—above all, editing as a dynamic property—are jettisoned. On the surface the pace of Bresson's films looks inflexible, and yet any external variations would distract from the rigours of the "exploration within." Every film, he has remarked, requires its "uniform"—and, above all, no fancy dress. This uniform becomes, as it were, a garment for the soul….

In the construction of a sound-track, the same classicism: the dialogue in each of these films has a lucid, precise, condensed quality, and in each case is created by a writer of high and meticulous literary skill, Giraudoux, Cocteau, Bernanos. There are no concessions to naturalism, which again would distract…. [Natural] sound is used in an arbitrary, succinct manner: usually as a reminder of a world outside the world of the film, momentarily impinging upon it….

The character of Anne-Marie [in Les Anges du Péché] expounds Bresson's favourite protagonist, the dedicated, haunted, isolated self-questioning hero or heroine, to whom all human communication seems to become increasingly painful, and whose eye is fixed on a horizon that others cannot see. In his next film, Les...

(The entire section is 1250 words.)