Bromont-Lamothe (Puy-de-Dome), France, 25 September 1907.
Lycée Lakanal à Sceaux, Paris.
Married 1) Leidia van der Zee, 1926 (deceased); 2) Myline van der Mersch.
Attempted career as painter, to 1933; directed first film,
, 1934; German prisoner of war, 1940–41; directed first major film,
Les Anges du péché
, 1943; elected President d'honneur de la Societé des
realisateurs de films, 1968.
International Prize, Venice Film Festival, for
Journal d'un curé campagne
, 1951; Best Director Award, Cannes Festival, for
Un Condamné a mort s'est échappé
, 1957; Special Jury Prize, Cannes Festival, for
Procès de Jeanne d'Arc
, 1962; Ours d'Argent, Berlin, for
Le Diable probablement
, 1977; Grand Prix national des Arts et des Lettres (Cinéma),
France, 1978; Grand Prize, Cannes Festival, for
, 1984; National Order of Merit, Commandeur of Arts and Letters of the
Légion d'honneur; Lion d'Or, Venice, 1989; Felix
Européen, Berlin, 1993.
18 December 1999, in Paris, France, of natural causes.
Affaires publiques (+ sc)
Les Anges du péché ( Angels of the Streets ) (+ sc)
Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne ( The Ladies of the Bois de Boulogne ) (+ sc)
Journal d'un curé de campagne ( Diary of a Country Priest ) (+ sc)
Un Condamné a mort s'est échappé ( Le Vent souffle où il veut ; A Condemned Man Escapes ) (+ sc)
Pickpocket (+ sc)
Procès de Jeanne d'Arc ( The Trial of Joan of Arc ) (+ sc)
Au hasard Balthazar ( Balthazar ) (+ sc)
Mouchette (+ sc)
Une Femme douce (+ sc)
Quatre Nuits d'un rêveur ( Four Nights of a Dreamer ) (+ sc)
Lancelot du Luc ( Le Graal ; Lancelot of the Lake ) (+ sc)
Le Diable probablement (+ sc)
L'Argent (+ sc)
C'était un musicien (Zelnick and Gleize) (dialogue)
Les Jumeaux de Brighton (Heymann) (co-sc); Courrier Sud (Billon) (co-adaptation)
Notes sur le cinématographe , Paris, 1975; as Notes on the Cinematography , New York, 1977, and London, 1978.
"Bresson on Location: Interview," with Jean Douchet, in Sequence (London), no. 13, 1951.
Interview with Ian Cameron, in Movie (London), February 1963.
Interview with Jean-Luc Godard and M. Delahaye, in Cahiers du Cinéma in English (New York), February 1967.
"Four Nights of a Dreamer," interview with Carlos Clarens, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1971/72.
" Quatre Nuits d'un rêveur ," interview with Claude Beylie, in Ecran (Paris), April 1972.
" Lancelot du Lac ," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), February 1975.
Interview, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1976/77.
Interview with J. Fieschi, in Cinématographe (Paris), July/August 1977.
"Robert Bresson, Possibly," interview with Paul Schrader, in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1977.
"The Poetry of Precision," interview with Michel Ciment, in American Film (Washington, D.C.), October 1983.
"Bresson et lumiere," interview with David Thompson, in Time Out (London), 2 September 1987.
Ciment, M., "Je ne cherche pas une description mais une vision des choses," an interview with M. Ciment, in Positif (Paris), December 1996.
Sarris, Andrew, editor, The Film , Indianapolis, Indiana, 1968.
The Films of Robert Bresson , by five reviewers, New York, 1969.
Armes, Roy, French Cinema since 1946, Vol. 1 , New York, 1970.
Cameron, Ian, The Films of Robert Bresson , London, 1970.
Bazin, André, and others, La Politique des auteurs: Entretiens avec Jean Renoir etc , Paris, 1972; revised edition, 1989.
Schrader, Paul, Transcendental Style on Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer , Los Angeles, 1972.
Sloan, Jane, Robert Bresson: A Guide to References and Resources , Boston, 1983.
Esteve, Michel, La Passion du cinématographe , Paris, 1985.
Hanlon, Lindley, Fragments: Bresson's Film Style , Cranbury, New Jersey, 1986.
Semolve Robert Bresson , Flemmarion, 1993.
Quandt, James, Robert Bresson , Indiana University Press, 1999.
Lambert, Gavin, "Notes on Robert Bresson," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1953.
Monod, Roland, "Working with Bresson," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1957.
Gow, Gordon, "The Quest for Realism," in Films and Filming (London), December 1957.
Baxter, Brian, "Robert Bresson," in Film (London), September/October 1958.
Roud, Richard, "The Early Work of Robert Bresson," in Film Culture (New York), no. 20, 1959.
Ford, Charles, "Robert Bresson," in Films in Review (New York), February 1959.
Green, Marjorie, "Robert Bresson," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1960.
Roud, Richard, "French Outsider with the Inside Look," in Films and Filming (London), April 1960.
Sontag, Susan, "Spiritual Style in the Films of Robert Bresson," in Seventh Art (New York), Summer 1964.
Sarris, Andrew, "Robert Bresson," in Interviews with Film Directors , New York, 1967.
Skoller, S. Donald, "Praxis as a Cinematic Principle in the Films of Robert Bresson," in Cinema Journal (Evanston, Illinois), Fall 1969.
Rhode, Eric, "Dostoevsky and Bresson," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1970.
Zeman, Marvin, "The Suicide of Robert Bresson," in Cinema (Los Angeles), Spring 1971.
Prokosch, M., "Bresson's Stylistics Revisited," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), vol. 15, no. 1, 1972.
Samuels, Charles, "Robert Bresson," in Encountering Directors , New York, 1972.
Polhemus, H.M., "Matter and Spirit in the Films of Robert Bresson," in Film Heritage (Dayton, Ohio), Spring 1974.
Westerbeck, Jr., Colin, "Robert Bresson's Austere Vision," in Artforum (New York), November 1976.
Nogueira, R., "Burel and Bresson," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1976/77.
Dempsey, M., "Despair Abounding: The Recent Films of Robert Bresson," in Film Quarterly (Los Angeles), Fall 1980.
Hourigan, J., "On Two Deaths and Three Births: The Cinematography of Robert Bresson," in Stills (London), Autumn 1981.
Latille Dactec, M., "Bresson, Dostoievski," in Cinématographe (Paris), December 1981.
Dossier on Robert Bresson, in Cinéma (Paris), June 1983.
Bergala, Alain, and others, " L'Argent de Robert Bresson," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), June-July 1983.
"Bresson Issue," of Camera/Stylo (Paris), January 1985.
Affron, Mirella Jona, "Bresson and Pascal: Rhetorical Affinities," in Quarterly Review of Film Studies (New York), Spring 1985.
Milne, Tom, in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1987.
Adair, "Lost and Found: Beby Re-inaugurates," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1987.
Baxter, Brian, "Robert Bresson," in Films and Filming (London), September 1987.
Loiselle, Marie-Claude, "Poétique du montage," in 24 Images (Montreal), Summer 1995.
Holland, Agnieszka, "The Escape of Bresson," in DGA (Los Angeles), May-June 1997.
Nagel, Josef, "Der selige Hauch der Unendlichkeit," in Film-dienst (Cologne), 24 November 1992.
Douin, Jean-Luc, "Le cinématographiste," in Télérama (Paris), 9 February 1994.
Bleeckere, Sylvain De, "Bressons beelden," in Film en Televisie (Brussels), October 1996.
Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 7, 1997.
Weyergans, Francois, Robert Bresson , 1965.
Kotulla, Theodor, Zum Beispiel Bresson , 1967.
* * *
Robert Bresson began and quickly gave up a career as a painter, turning to cinema in 1934. The short film he made that year, Affaires publiques , has not yet been shown. His next work, Les Anges du péché , was his first feature film, followed by Les Dames du Bois du Boulogne and Journal d'un curé de campagne , which firmly established his reputation as one of the world's most rigorous and demanding filmmakers. In the next fifteen years he made only four films: Un Condamné à mort s'est échappé, Pickpocket, Procès de Jeanne d'Arc , and Au hasard Balthazar , each a work of masterful originality and unlike the others. From then until his death in 1999, he made films with more frequency and somewhat less intensity. In 1975 Gallimard published his gnomic Notes sur le cinématographe. As a whole Bresson's oeuvre constitutes a crucial investigation of the nature of cinematic narration. All three films of the 1950s are variations on the notion of a written diary transposed to a voice-over commentary on the visualized action. More indirectly, Procès de Jeanne d'Arc proposes yet another variant through the medium of the written transcript of the trial; Une Femme douce is told through the voice of the husband as he keeps a vigil for his suicidal wife; and in Quatre nuits d'un rêveur both of the principal characters narrate their previous histories to each other. In all of these instances Bresson allows the tension between the continuity of written and spoken language and the fragmentation of shots in a film to become an important thematic concern. His narrators tell themselves (and us) stories in order to find meaning in what has happened to them. The elusiveness of that meaning is reflected in the elliptical style of Bresson's editing.
For the most part, Bresson employed only amateur actors. He avoided histrionics and seldom permitted his "models" (as he called them, drawing a metaphor from painting) to give a traditional performance. The emotional tensions of the films derive from the elaborate interchange of glances, subtle camera movements, offscreen sounds, carefully placed bits of baroque and classical music, and rhythmical editing.
The Bressonian hero is often defined by what he or she sees. We come to understand the sexual tensions of Ambricourt from a few shots seen from the country priest's perspective; the fierce desire to escape helps the condemned man to see the most ordinary objects as tools for his purpose; the risk the pickpocket initially takes to prove his moral superiority to himself leads him to see thefts where we might only notice people jostling one another: the film initiates its viewers into his privileged perspective. Only at the end does he realize that this obsessive mode of seeing has blinded him to a love which he ecstatically embraces.
Conversely, Mouchette kills herself suddenly when she sees the death of a hare (with which she identified herself); the heroine of Une Femme douce kills herself because she can see no value in things, while her pawnbroker husband sees nothing but the monetary worth of everything he handles. The most elaborate form this concentration on seeing takes in Bresson's cinema is the structure of Au hasard Balthazar , where the range of human vices is seen through the eyes of a donkey as he passes through a series of owners.
The intricate shot-countershot of Bresson's films reinforces his emphasis on seeing, as does his careful use of camera movement. Often he reframes within a shot to bring together two different objects of attention. The cumulative effect of this meticulous and often obsessive concentration on details is the sense of a transcendent and fateful presence guiding the actions of characters who come to see only at the end, if at all, the pattern and goal of their lives.
Only in Un Condamné, Pickpocket , and Quatre Nuits does the protagonist survive the end of the film. A dominant theme of his cinema is dying with grace. In Mouchette, Une Femme douce , and Le Diable probablement the protagonists commit suicide. In Les Anges and L'Argent they give themselves up as murderers. Clearly Bresson, who was the most prominent of Catholic filmmakers, does not reflect the Church's condemnation of suicide. Death, as he represented it, comes as the acceptance of one's fate. The three suicides emphasize the enigma of human will; they seem insufficiently motivated, but are pure acts of accepting death.
—P. Adams Sitney