Charles cannot see the forest for the trees, lost in a philosophical conundrum: it is not the absence of compassion to be considered, but rather the absence of awareness of compassion. Director Robert Bresson creates a cerebral tempest of ennui and disillusionment, a militantly nihilistic drama of a young man imbued with Nietzschean superiority, whose invisible humanity is like vibrations that disturb the air around him…but makes no sound because there is no receptor.
This utterly bleak and pessimistic worldview could be the genesis of Michael Haneke’s emotional glaciation trilogy: we see the world through frozen eyes. Bresson’s characters wander through the story with a pretentious lethargy, teenagers purposely severed from their bourgeois lineage, a cruel bloodletting that becomes a ritual of apathy. Charles is surrounded by a few acquaintances and he is cold and shallow, manipulating them to fuel his wants and desires…but even this leaves him empty like a sputtering prayer in a deserted church, dying embers upon an altar of despair.
Bresson often crosscuts between Charles’ indifference and two students who view caustic films of pollution and extreme violence: the modern reality of oil spills and baby seals being clubbed to death, while a neutral voice narrates this apocryphal documentary. Bresson contrasts one extreme with the other, unconcerned with the plot’s linear structure but focused upon the montage’s fervent denouement. Charles haunts the streets and homes of his friends, and though his cohorts like him he is unable (or unwilling) to reciprocate. This dichotomy shows the lower depths of his palsied morality: the others offer kindness without charge or attachment while he can only take advantaged of their good will.
Finally, Charles agrees to seek enlightenment from a psychiatrist but all he understands is the money exchanging hands, his counsel written on blank checks. He steals a gun and convinces a drug-addled acquaintance to shoot him, because Charles lacks the nerve to kill himself. The murder’s rapport cracks the night open and another young man palpitates with a heart of darkness. And what is the cause of this spiritual malaise, a parallel concerning creation’s fall from grace into the gutter of chaos? Just a cynical mantra…the Devil, probably.
Final Grade: (B+)