Robert Bresson

By: Mike Fleisch
September 25, 2014


It’s hard to be a director. You have to get the audience emotionally invested in the characters and on board with your aesthetic, all in service of telling the story. Narrative cinema’s infrastructure grew to support these goals: recognizable faces versed in Meisner, composition-attuned cinematographers, feature-length edit rhythms, tiered exhibition structures. Meanwhile, laced up and down the z-axis, ROBERT BRESSON (1901–99) was playing a very different game. A self-described Christian atheist, he discovered a universe out of space-time, and built a logic system to believe in it, more easily understood as life than film. His non-actor “models” would repeat lines over and over in preparation, until all psychology had been stripped away, and what remained was an unintended, unmetered essence, set within narrative space, but bordered by the experimental. Bresson’s published journal, Notes on the Cinematographer, spends much of its energy negatively, railing against the cinema of theatre for setting paper performances against real trees, and the “expressiveness of Actors.” His images accumulate, offering beauty and meaning primarily through context. Occasional humor derives from the fractured, reconstituted assumptions where reality meets representation, so carefully did he monitor the interplay of audiovisual and emotional flow. It’s a precise, simple vocabulary of hands, doors, and downcast glances, arranged to map despair and its theoretical twin, empathy.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Shel Silverstein, Mark Rothko.

READ MORE about members of the Hardboiled Generation (1894-1903).


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