Sunday, January 24, 2010

THE DEVIL, PROBABLY (Robert Bresson, 1977, France)

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+)


smarthotoldlady said...

OMG Alex
Is it really this awful, this modern life? I feel so guilty for being so happy with what I've got and who. I know how awful it is in Darfur and the West Bank and do what I can to help the suffering, but life has always been awful for many. Is it hopeless for all? Do we have a right not to blow our brains out?

I love Bresson, or have up to now. I haven't seen this one. Dare I?

Alex DeLarge said...

My friends often wonder how can I be so happy when every day at work I'm surrounded by misery. I don't know really, I just think most people are more happy than they are sad, though sadness is an important part of being human.

This film is like a scientific experiment and I never connected with Charles and actually quite disliked I guess I did make a connection albeit a negative one. Maybe that was Bresson's point?

I believe the film is worth watching because it is masterfully made, and I like to peer beneath the veneer of fictional people to see what demons lurk in the convolutions of the spirit.

Unfortunately, this is not available in the US on DVD; you will need to import from the UK and you will need a region free player that also converts PAL to NTSC. On the bright side, if you already have the tech stuff the disc is only $10 on Amazon UK:)

I'll be reviewing all of Bresson's films this year because, believe it or not (sounds like something from Ripley's) I've just discovered Bresson in the past few months. I've always read about his films but my cinementor proposed a trilogy and I fell in love with Bresson's style.