The Invention of Robert Bresson: The Auteur and His Market

By Colin Burnett | Go to book overview

4
Theorizing the Image:
Bresson’s Challenge to the Realists—Sparse
Set Design, Acting, and Photography
from Les anges du péché (1943) to
Une femme douce (1969)

Georges Sadoul: In terms of aesthetics, do you believe that one must obey
rules, elaborate theories?

Robert Bresson: Some view me as a theoretician. It is perfectly true that,
given the complexity of film, I view it as profitable to reflect on one I’ve just
completed in order to try to understand why I was successful with one thing
and failed with another.

If these reflections give birth to theories, it is because they help me feel
free—I feel free precisely because these theories exist.

—Interview, March 19631

ROBERT BRESSON MIGHT have made an avant-garde career of his achievements in adaptation alone. A decade after he revolutionized the art with his faithful rendering of Georges Bernanos’s Journal d’un curé de campagne (1951), he turned the original minutes of Joan of Arc’s trial into an uncompromising, historically truthful drama, Le procès de Jeanne d’Arc (1962). He returned to Bernanos’s vision of contemporary rural life with the critically acclaimed Mouchette (1967), this time taking more liberties with the novel’s structure and tone. Abandoning the idea of fidelity entirely, he then experimented with adaptation as a form of modernization, transforming stories from Dostoyevsky (Une femme douce, 1969; Quatre nuits d’un rêveur, 1971), the tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (Lancelot du lac, 1974) and Tolstoy (L’argent, 1983) by playing down the historical specificities of the original sources and granting them a more contemporary feel, in terms of dialogue, themes, locations, costuming, and overall structure. Throughout his career, Bresson experimented with adaptation—literary and historical, faithful and modern—from virtually every angle available to him.

Bresson was determined to reshape the art form, and our understanding of it, in more ambitious ways as well. Between films, he took to theorizing about

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