The Invention of Robert Bresson: The Auteur and His Market

By Colin Burnett | Go to book overview

1
Under the Aegis of Surrealism:
How a Publicity Artist Became the
Manager of an Independent
Film Company

He spoke to me about his film. He began by declaring that the title is Les
Affaires publiques, and that it is an extraordinary film, based on a premise
never before seen in France [that] will revolutionize French production.

—CRITIC HENRIETTE JANNE1

Such was Robert Bresson’s ambition when he made his directorial debut, the comique fou short Les affaires publiques (1934).2 Only in his midthirties, he set out to challenge an entire industry and launch a revolution in film practice. What factors put him in a position to do so?

For decades, commentators have had very little to say about Bresson’s early art and film career. Some have even dismissed the period of the 1930s as irrelevant to his emergence as one of cinema’s most revered auteurs. This chapter reveals otherwise.

In what follows, I uncover the social and institutional factors that permitted Bresson’s entry into the world of filmmaking in the early 1930s. In ways that have yet to be fully appreciated by scholars, his first opportunities to pick up a movie camera came as a result of his ties to the Parisian avant-garde. This avantgarde, to a certain extent in decline, nevertheless remained a tight-knit group that allowed Bresson to come into contact with photographers, painters, sculptors, publicity artists, and patrons of the arts, who protected and nurtured his art, and ultimately afforded him something that is essential to any vanguard auteur: the opportunity to refine a distinctive artistic voice and thereby begin to gain a foothold in the cultural market.

This chapter and the next explore two contexts—the interwar and postwar avant-gardes—that are crucial to our reassessment of Bresson, backgrounds that make it vital to dispense with the convenient assumption that auteurs are mere individualists. Bresson did not discover his unique artistic commitments or establish himself within the cultural market through a strategy of extreme

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