2011 Film Programme:

September 16th: Diary of a Country Priest (dir. Robert Bresson)

September 23rd: A Man Escaped (dir. Robert Bresson)

September 30th: Pickpocket (dir. Robert Bresson)

Doors open at 6.30 pm for a 7pm start.

Diary of a Country Priest (1951)

Dir. Robert Bresson

France 1951 | Black & White | 115 mins | Drama

'A film that words fail' - Los Angeles Times

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A Man Escaped (1956)

Dir. Robert Bresson

France 1956 | Black & white | 101 mins | Cert U | Drama

'A heart-stopping, palm-sweating, emotional roller-coaster ride with an ending that makes your heart leap for joy' - Timeout

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Pickpocket (1959)

Dir. Robert Bresson

France 1959 | Black & White | 75 mins | Cert PG

'An unmitigated masterpiece' - Paul Schrader

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ROBERT BRESSON was born at Bromont-Lamothe, Puy-de-Dôme in France (c. 1901). Raised as a Catholic and educated at the Lycée Lakanal in Sceaux, Hauts-de-Seine, he began his professional career as a painter and scriptwriter, and made his first film, a short, entitled Les Affaires Publiques (Public Affairs) in 1934. His second film, Les Anges du Péché (Angels of the Streets) was made nine years later in 1943, followed in 1945, with Les dames du Bois de Boulogne. He made a further eleven feature length films, none of which employed professional actors.

During World War II, Bresson spent over a year in a prisoner-of-war camp, an experience that clearly defined his vision for Un Condamné à Mort s'est Échappé ou Le Vent Souffle où Il Veut (A Man Escaped) (1951). This experience also helped to shape his cinematic style in general, which has since been described as ascetic, reflective, contemplative: a ‘vision of the invisible’.

This vision is always imbued with a deep religious faith, arguably that of Jansenism, a sectarian form of Catholicism concerned with predestination, salvation through purpose and the personal life of prayer. ‘It is the inside that commands’, Bresson said in an interview with Michel Esteve, ‘I know that it may seem paradoxical in an art that is all about the outside. [But] only the conflicts that take place inside the characters give its movement to the film, its real movement.’

By rejecting theatrical device, Bresson sought a purer form of expression. He saw cinematography as an act of creation rather than an act of recording - as a new way of writing. Jean Cocteau once said that Bresson ‘expresses himself cinematographically as a poet would with his pen’. Bresson agreed: “Yes, for me, the image is like a word in a sentence. Poets elaborate a vocabulary. They willingly use desperately common words. And it's the most common word, the most used, which, because it's in its right place, all of a sudden shines extraordinarily." Sparse, mannered and continuously poised, Bresson’s cinematic style is also uniquely shaped by his use of sound, in which selected sounds are associated with corresponding images or characters. Bresson’s practice draws on the view that all the aspects of a film—its sound, image, performers and author—work in unison to form an exchange with the viewer.

Critically acclaimed in France and elsewhere, his work has still, nevertheless, yet to receive a wide popular following. Dennis Copper writes that a full appreciation of Bresson's work requires moviegoers to approach his films as though starting from scratch. Too plain to be considered experimental or avant-garde, they are also anti-traditional, although their respect for the tradition of storytelling borders on the fanatical. Today, at least among filmmakers and other cinematic professionals, Bresson is viewed as one of the few truly great directors of world cinema. A number of subsequent and distinguished filmmakers, including Andrei Tarkovsky, Michael Haneke, Jim Jarmusch, Martin Scorcese, Wim Wenders and Paul Schrader, have all acknowledged Bresson’s influence. Bresson retired from filmmaking in the 1980s, after failing to raise the money for a long-planned adaptation of the Book of Genesis, and he died in 1999.

  • Les Affaires Publiques (Public Affairs) (1934)
  • Les Anges du Péché (Angels of the Streets) (1943)
  • Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (The Ladies of the Bois de Boulogne) (1945)
  • Journal d'un Curé de Campagne (Diary of a Country Priest) (1951)
  • Un Condamné à Mort s'est Échappé ou Le Vent Souffle où Il Veut (A Man Escaped) (1956)
  • Pickpocket (1959)
  • Procès de Jeanne d'Arc (The Trial of Joan of Arc) (1962)
  • Au Hasard Balthazar  (Balthazar) (1966)
  • Mouchette (1967)
  • Une Femme Douce (A Gentle Woman) (1969)
  • Quatre Nuits d'un Rêveur (Four Nights of a Dreamer) (1971)
  • Lancelot du Lac (Lancelot of the Lake) (1974)
  • Le Diable Probablement (The Devil Probably) (1977)
  • L'Argent (Money) (1983)

Themes encountered in Bresson's films include salvation, free will, the grace of God and depth of human sin. These are explored in the simple context of everyday life, an existence which is at once ordinary and extraordinary. Diary of a Country Priest (1951), A Man Escaped (1956) and Pickpocket (1959) represent the birth of Bresson's trademark austere style, using 'actor-models' and divesting the narrative of any unnecessary elements; the audience is left with a startling dialogue, intense, confrontational camera work and a vital use of sound. Bresson's cinematic technique can be compared to Swedenborg's literary style - neither author allows for hyperbole.

Bresson was influenced by the Catholic doctrine of Jansenism, as presented by Blaise Pascal in Ecrits Sur Grace (1670). Swedenborg was by no means a Jansenist, but both he and Pascal were reacting in a similar way to Protestant Reformation ideas of predestination and divine grace. Swedenborg and Pascal rejected the Calvinists' idea that God withholds his grace from those he wishes to condemn. Instead, God's grace and love are absolute; he wants all men to be saved and it is by their own actions that they condemn themselves. 'God is not a torturer'.

Bresson's films are directly focused on the existential pains of the human condition; his sympathies are with the protagonist and he is primarily interested in how someone can escape a personal hell - as is the case physically in A Man Escaped and morally in Pickpocket. Through their own free will and the influx of providence, each character eventually recognizes the transcendent reality of divine grace - or in Swedenborg's terminology, a vital 'correspondence' between this world and the next. At the end ofDiary of a Country Priest, our nameless protagonist declares, 'All is grace'.

Jean Cocteau said that Bresson was 'apart in this terrible trade', a director who rejected the conventions of his day to pursue a personal vision. Like Swedenborg, Bresson was a true radical, whose work would have a definitive impact on future generations of artists. We highly recommended  that you take this opportunity to witness these exceptional and fascinating films, in the inimitable atmosphere of Swedenborg Hall.