The Invention of Robert Bresson: The Auteur and His Market

By Colin Burnett | Go to book overview

2
The Rise of the Accursed:
When Bresson Was Copresident of an
Avant-Garde Ciné-Club

[Films maudits] are full of remarkable things, albeit unremarked, that
continually move cinema forward, but that are savored at first only by a select
few—these films that strengthen and nourish cinema as a whole.

Robert Bresson1

WHEN ROBERT BRESSON spoke these words about the distinctiveness of films maudits (accursed films) in an April 1949 Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française broadcast, he did so as one of the copresidents of Objectif 49 (1948–1950), a cinéclub that represented the collective effort of a group of postwar auteurs and cinephiles to relaunch the avant-garde in French cinema. It was the eve of the club’s second major event, the Festival du film maudit (July 28 through August 5, 1949), and Bresson’s primary purpose was to discuss the festival’s 16-millimeter-film competition, for which he would serve as a member of the jury: “The club ‘Objectif 49’ … believed that it would be appropriate to reward, alongside films thought of as commercial, those films to which cinema owes a great deal—I’d even say, everything…. Because cinema is immured in money and these 16mm films, which aren’t under the surveillance of money, are made in conditions of great liberty and are capable of great audacity…. It’s for this reason that this prize of one million [francs] that will be awarded to the best 16mm amateur film seems to me essential to the future of cinema.”2

Why would Bresson, today viewed by many as one of cinema’s great solitary artists, take such an activist role within the cultural market, teaming with cinephiles in support of the avant-garde?

The answer rests with the conditions Bresson faced as he transitioned to feature filmmaking in the 1940s. Like the 1930s, the decade of the Occupation and Liberation provides a pivotal background to the development of Bresson’s aesthetics, when the auteur was discovering how to orient himself toward the cultural market and the market was doing the same with “accursed” avant-garde auteurs like himself.

By 1948, which is to say, ten years after the collapse of his independent production firm Arc-Films, Bresson had transitioned to feature filmmaking, but his

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