This July, the Irish Film Institute is proud to present a full retrospective of the feature films of revered French director Robert Bresson. The season, which will run from July 2nd to 30th, will include thirteen screenings, from his 1943 feature debut Angels of Sin, to his final film L’argent, released in 1983. Eight of the thirteen films will screen in 35mm.
Despite a relatively small body of work made over the course of forty years, Bresson remains one of France’s most pivotal filmmakers. Determined to differentiate cinema from theatre as an artform, he honed a style that eschewed the traditional use of elements such as scoring and professional performances. It was his belief that this ascetic approach would speak to a raw, more credible truth of a character’s experience or situation.
The precision and efficiency with which Bresson approached every aspect of his films makes each a concentrated experience, rich in resonance and metaphor beyond the ostensible subject matter. While his films are undeniably serious and frequently challenging, Bresson’s œuvre is nonetheless one of the most sublime in cinema history.
The season opens on Tuesday 2nd with Angels of Sin, Bresson’s debut which focuses on a Dominican convent whose members are dedicated to helping women adjust to life following their release from prison. Bresson’s last film to solely feature professional actors, Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne will screen on Saturday 6th and centres on a woman whose attempts to rekindle the flame of a relationship by feigning disinterest in her paramour backfire when he agrees to be just friends.
Diary of a Country Priest (Sunday 7th) saw the emergence of what is now identifiable as the Bressonian style in its use of voiceover, sound and editing. Claude Laydu plays an idealistic young priest on his first assignment who, rather than receiving a warm welcome from his new parishioners, is met with suspicion and contempt.
Next to screen during the season are 1956’s A Man Escaped (Tuesday 9th), based on the memoirs of Resistance fighter André Devigny who escaped from the Nazi-run Montluc prison; Pickpocket (Saturday 13th) features a petty thief who falls in with a group of more experienced criminals; the gripping The Trial of Joan of Arc (Sunday 14th) contains dialogue culled entirely from transcripts of Joan of Arc’s trial and has been seen as an indictment of institutional corruption; the iconic Au Hasard Balthazar (Tuesday 16th) follows the life of a donkey from birth to death, giving Bresson the opportunity to explore human cruelty and the rarity of kindness, altruism, and self-sacrifice; and the bleak coming-of-age tale Mouchette (Saturday 20th) starring Nadine Nortier as a young woman burdened with responsibility from an early age who comes to realise that adulthood will offer her no respite.
Bresson’s first film in colour, A Gentle Woman, screens on Sunday 21st. Starring Dominique Sanda and Guy Frangin, the film centres on a pawnbroker trying to understand what pushed his wife to suicide by recounting the tale of their courtship and marriage to their maid. Four Nights of a Dreamer (Tuesday 23rd) sees a young artist encounter a woman about to jump from Paris’s Pont Neuf; it is revealed that she had been driven to despair on discovering that her lover had returned to Paris and made no effort to contact her.
Bresson’s rendering of Arthurian legend, Lancelot du Lac (Saturday 27th), is a typically unflinching look at the conflict between the individual’s best and worst behaviours. The Knights of the Round Table return to Camelot following the failure of their quest for the Holy Grail, where they are presented as bitter and disappointed rather than noble or heroic.
The season finishes with 1977’s The Devil, Probably (Sunday 28th) which sees the last months of a young man’s life replayed in flashback, while Bresson’s final film, L’argent, unspools in 35mm on Tuesday 30th. In L’argent, based on Tolstoy’s novella The Forged Coupon, the film follows the disastrous consequences for a group of connected individuals when a forged 500 Franc note circulates amongst them. A hapless deliveryman unwittingly attempts to use it in a restaurant where the forgery is discovered, leading to his imprisonment. His determination to exact revenge sets in motion a further chain of events that leads to an uncompromising ending.
Tickets for the Robert Bresson retrospective are now on sale from https://ifi.ie/robert-bresson. A multi-film pass, 5 films for €45, is available directly from the IFI Box Office on 01-6793477.
The Robert Bresson season is presented with the support of the French Embassy in Ireland and Institut Français.
FULL SEASON SCHEDULE
Tuesday 2nd (18.30): Angels of Sin
Saturday 6th (16.00): Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne
Sunday 7th (16.00): Diary of a Country Priest
Tuesday 9th (18.15): A Man Escaped
Saturday 13th (16.00): Pickpocket
Sunday 14th (16.00): The Trial of Joan of Arc
Tuesday 16th (18.20): Au Hasard Balthazar
Saturday 20th (16.00): Mouchette
Sunday 21st (16.00): A Gentle Woman
Tuesday 23rd (18.20): Four Nights of a Dreamer
Saturday 27th (15.30): Lancelot du Lac
Sunday 28th (16.00): The Devil, Probably
Tuesday 30th (18.30): L’argent
The IFI is supported by The Arts Council