Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film

By Lloyd Baugh | Go to book overview

7
Christ-Figures in the Films of Bresson and Tarkovsky

Beyond studying the representation of Christ-figures in single films, one can approach the theme by considering how film auteurs develop images of Christ in several of their films. This auteur approach to the Christ-figure would be fruitful with, for example, the earlier films of Pier Paolo Pasolini, some of which we have already discussed, or with the films of John Ford. There are however two other film-makers, both auteurs, both within the Christian tradition, both giants in world of cinema, whose work stands out for its high Christian spiritual significance and impact. The Frenchman, Robert Bresson, and the Russian, Andrei Tarkovsky, of whom we have already spoken repeatedly, create in their films a variety of complex figurative images of Christ. In this concluding chapter, we shall take a brief look at a selection of these films.


The Films of Robert Bresson

Robert Bresson made thirteen films between 1934 and 1983, on a variety of subjects, but all of them shot through and through with Christian and christological themes, in which "analogies to Christ and relationships with the scriptures never cease." 1 Already we have considered in some detail Bresson's The Trial of Joan of Arc and his masterpiece Au hasard Balthazar. Here we will analyze two other Bresson films. Though most of the French director's protagonists represent "allusions to the life of Christ," 2 each represents different dimensions of the Christ-event: Bresson "multiplies the images of Christ in his work, refusing, as did the Evangelists themselves, to present a single unique of the Savior." 3 Often however, the Bressonian Christ-figure assumes the guise of the suffering servant: "the figure of the Just One, scoffed at and insulted, which represents Jesus in the profound depths of his Incarnation, overpowered by human misery and suffering." 4

This dynamic pattern of the passion of Christ, operative in most of Bresson's films, is not always easy to discern, in part because he has a very sophisticated and often extremely subtle style, difficult to follow and appreciate, and in part because, for Bresson, "every human being carries his own cross, different from that of others, but in the end always identifiable with that of the son of God." 5 His characters are complex: some are innocent, others guilty; some die, others live; some are victims till the end, others are victorious. But they are all intelligent and aware, and mysterious: "even in

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