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January 17, 2012

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Michael Sicinski

Beautiful and righteous analysis, Glenn. And indeed, pride is a luxury in this structure, but pride, as Romney's revolting arrogance makes clear, becomes more and more indistinguishable from basic dignity.

One thought, and honestly I'm not sure it amounts to anything. The Ron Paulettes, what with their anti-Fed, hard-money fetish and mourning of the gold standard, could have a slightly different reading of "L'argent," given that they might perceive the counterfeit note and a 'real" one as roughly equivalent.

warren oates

Like STALKER the other day, here's another one we can totally agree on. And your understanding of the sin of pride as it plays out in the film is dead on. It took me two or three viewings to get that. I love L'ARGENT so much. It's such an precise and relentless work. So fast too. I always try to force this on friends who think of art films as "slow." Here's hoping the Criterion edition is soon and maybe that they port over the Kent Jones commentary from that old New Yorker disc. I really like his BFI book on the film too.

Paul

20 years ago in film school at the dawn of VHS, there were two or three films we students watched obsessively on our own time - this, Stranger than Paradise, and Mean Streets (with the final reel missing because the tape ran out). I think we were lucky with our semi-random selection. Certain shots in L'Argent are pretty much coded into my DNA but it's always good to be reminded that the film's visual and aural qualities aren't the whole story.

I.B.

Interesting thoughts on one of the Truly Great Films. However, and this is not so much for the sake of nitpicking than for the hopes of steering the discussion towards certain meaty subject... well, huh, do we really need to use words, concepts, like "sin", "deadly sin", "the power to buy sin", to comment on 'L'argent'? You know where I'm going.

Bruce Reid

Actually, I.B., I don't. Even if you're arguing for a secular reading, which is possible but seems counter to Bresson's purpose, how do you slice off the notion of sin while maintaining Glenn's central insight that the greatest of them, pride, motivates much of the film?

Victor Morton

Also, absent the concept of sin, "wrongs" become conceptualized essentially as damages or torts. Since those conceptualizations are material, they are essentially fungible (my use of the legal term "torts" was deliberate). And there is nothing morally offensive about paying a tort if you can afford it.

David Ehrenstein

Excellent Glenn.

Everyone seeing "L'Argebt" should pay very close attention to the film's final moments which are crucial to Bresson's dealings with sound and hia statement that "the eye listens before it looks." For the sound of the axe as it swirls over our heads in the auditorium renders the image we see before us in 3-D.

Gus

Re: the Criterion of this film, L'Argent and Man Escaped have both been available on Criterion's Hulu plus channel for quite some time despite no news regarding DVDs for them. Not sure what to make of that.

Kevin Michael Grace

Any "conservative argument" that does not proceed from an understanding of sin, indeed original sin, is not conservative at all. I say this not just as an admirer of Bresson but also as someone who has been published in most of the major American conservative magazines. But what do I know? The mob at the GOP debate this week jeered Dr Paul for invoking the Golden Rule.

We have it on excellent authority that "The love of money is a root from which every kind of evil springs, and there are those who have wandered away from the faith by making it their ambition, involving themselves in a world of sorrows." (Ronald Knox translation.) But, again, our modern conservatives know better. Their motto: Without Marx (but Trotsky's OK) or Jesus.

Some Dude Who's Not Into That Kind Of Terminology

"So how have you boying the Bresson retrospective?"

"Oh, man, it's amazing; too bad I wasn't able to catch 'The Devil, Probably.'"

"Um, don't you mean 'Vulture Capitalism, Probably?'"

I.B.

Well, I wasn't so much arguing for a strictly secular reading (though that was part of it), than expressing my doubts about dropping religious terminology on discussions of Bresson, the reasons being:

1) I wonder whether those concepts would arise were the very same film directed by another filmmaker without the connotations that float around Bresson to this day, and whether we shouldn't be more careful in using them to avoid cliches and the commonplace about his work,

2) I don't oppose passing ideological readings on works of art, but to give them too much weight is to detract from the work itself; "matters of life and death", as Flannery O'Connor would have put it, should stand as mysteries beyond the reach of the relatively easy decodings of Christian or Atheist or Freudian or Marxist or Feminist or Klingonian interpretations,

3) a secular reading would be very welcome, just for a change. One centered on style and what's on the frame.

Glenn Kenny

"a secular reading would be very welcome, just for a change. One centered on style and what's in the frame." Well, then, why not try "The Sheen of Armour, the Whinnies of Horses: Sparse Parametric Style in 'Lancelot du Lac'," by Kristen Thompson, in the Cinematheque Ontario anthology on Bresson edited by James Quandt? No cliched Jesus-freakery, there, that's for sure. It's even got charts and diagrams and stuff. Enjoy.

Jaime N. Christley

As someone who's been to church maybe ten times in his entire life, my formalist bias has always been pretty heavy, so I sympathize with what I.B. write quite a bit. There is a time and a place for "let's just look at the work as matter rent from the earth" and so forth - in fact that's my preferred lens. But in recent years I've come to question the "this not that" Boolean parameters of film interpretation, and would see to it that we apply multiple, variable kinds of readings on films... in other words, fully have the cake and eat it too with regards to looking at (what we may know of) the author's life and beliefs in conjunction with the film but also striking all that from the record and just looking at the work-as-work. And so on. I think the intelligent mind can handle that.

At this point I think bringing up Jansenism in light of Bresson is a little outmoded, like saying "Griffith's films are terrible because he was a racist" or "Hitchcock said actors are cattle" or "Godard said all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun," i.e. apocrypha that's strayed so far from The Work that there's a great deal more smoke than fire. But I agree with Kent Jones when he said that the efforts to de-Christianize Bresson have been counter-productive. Even if you had no idea who Bresson was, and all you had was The Work, as it were (and it's not like the guy would talk your ear off about where he was from and what kind of life he led and what it was like being a POW, etc), Christian spiritual themes are... pretty crucial, I think.

I would add that Yvon's pride is class-derived, the people who work jobs like his are almost invariably incensed whenever their personal integrity is impugned in any way. His attack on the waiter is always a shocking moment for me, but understandable - similar to some pre-Code movie where some guy says "you callin' me a liar" and then socks the other guy across the jaw. His later transformation from prison has always remained a great mystery to me - "great" as in it makes the film great. The final shot is one of the great kiss-off moments in auteurist cinema, on par with Nicole Kidman saying "Fuck" or Anne Bancroft saying "So long, ya bastard!"

David Ehrenstein

Well Griffith's racist films ARE terrible. The Ku Klux Klan was fading when "The Birth of A Nation" brought it roaring back.

Jaime N. Christley

Yes, one has to face the fact that Griffith was a racist, and BOAN is racist and beneath contempt in a lot of ways.

I'm not disputing that. I'm not disputing anything, really.

I'm saying one can hold those things to be true and still keep looking at the work for more data. A racist filmmaker who might have tried to shoot BOAN's script without Griffith's peculiarities and intelligence would have made something else entirely... something less troubling, I would argue.

Also, the greater point, BOAN should never get in the way of appreciating Griffith's other films that are, shall we say, less in need of qualification.

My main point of contention is with the idea that when discussing an artist, you have these situations where one set of ideas voids another set of ideas, when you could very easily just have all ideas on the table, weighed differently, and so forth. I realize this would void every internet discussion ever, because discussing stuff on the internet is like playing Monopoly, where the game never ends and each player has to *own everything on the board*, but still...

bill

"I wonder whether those concepts would arise were the very same film directed by another filmmaker without the connotations that float around Bresson to this day"

Can we please put this line of argument to bed once and for all? The very same film WOULD NOT have been directed by another filmmaker. Someone else may have adapted the Tolstoy story, but they would not have made L'ARGENT, and it's absurd to suggest that this would even be possible. How can anyone think this can be used to support an argument? You're inventing an alternate universe where the movie we have in this universe exists, but was not made by the same man, and then you're imagining what everyone's reaction to it would be.

And for the record, this goes for Peter Hyams and OUTLAND, too, as well as every other film ever made.

BobSolo

Well played, bill. However, if I'm going to live in an alternate universe, can it be the one with David Lynch's RETURN OF THE JEDI?

jbryant

bill: Reminds me of a dust-up I had on another forum recently with a very condescending joker who insisted that "most" critics give Woody Allen and the Coen brothers a free pass, which wouldn't be the case if those exact same films had been made by some no-name or less-respected filmmakers. I pointed out that this was a pointless "argument," because films are directed by their directors, not by other directors who didn't direct them. He called me "bewilderingly obtuse" and gave me a mini-lecture on subjectivity.

As for BIRTH OF A NATION, yes, it's inconvenient that a film so crucial to cinema history has racist content, but whadda ya gonna do? As Jaime suggests, intelligent people ought to able to consider the thing in full, put it in context, appreciate what's great, decry what's horrid, and not throw a lot of beautiful babies out with the racist bathwater.

David Ehrenstein

"My main point of contention is with the idea that when discussing an artist, you have these situations where one set of ideas voids another set of ideas, when you could very easily just have all ideas on the table, weighed differently, and so forth."

Uh no. That Griffith is a filmmkaer of great talent makes his racism all the more egregious.

Bresson is of course far less problematic. One does not have to be a "believer" to appreciate "Diary of a Country Priest" anymore than one has to be na athiest to apprecite "Le Diable Probablement" -- or for that matter a rent boy to appreciate "Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne." That's because Bresson is not a propagandist. He has points that he wishes to make (very different ones over the course of his career) and he does so without bludgeoning the audience into submission.

John M

Bit of service: L'ARGENT is available currently on Hulu Plus. If you're into that sorta thing.

Jaime N. Christley

ME: "My main point of contention is with the idea that when discussing an artist, you have these situations where one set of ideas voids another set of ideas, when you could very easily just have all ideas on the table, weighed differently, and so forth."

DE: "Uh no."

Always a pleasure David.

david hare

I.B., yes a secular reading is precisely what L'Argent requires. Bresson was clearly turning to a world which god had either left, or had never been a part of from Mouchette onwards. Whether you want to call Yvon's "sin" "pride", or simply that his realization that evil is the absence of good. By the time the serial killer's axe DE describes falls, Bresson's world is totally godless, every living human is prey to evil and the movie a a unassailable statement of unequivocal atheism. "Grace" now appears to be impossible to attain.

"Spirituality" or a similar template at this point is woefully inadequate to the task of realizing what Bresson is saying.

Like it or not.

Glenn Kenny

David, I agree, or at least sympathize, with your conclusion pertaining to the film, but I don't think your interpretation contradicts what I'm saying. The fact that the rich characters can buy off ANY transgression, are not in any way obliged to suffer the consequences of their actions, whereas Yvon's one indulgence of a resentment essentially dooms him, is arguably emblematic of the "absence of good" of which you speak.

david hare

Glenn, yes, I'm not disputing your reading at all. I am doing a bit of reclaim for Bresson from an atheist's POV (And I speak as one who is nuts about things like Francesco Guillare di Dio or Quattro Volte, or A Man Escaped which is literally about states of grace and love them for what they are.)

I think with Balthazar and L'Argent Bresson made two of the cruellest. most diffiult movies to watch in the cinema. They put something like Salo back into it's correct character as simply a recit (cant do aigues!!)

I guess you are aware but others may not be, L'Argent was one of several Bresson's rereleased by Mylene a few years ago in pretty fine restored versions for 35mm and DVD - MK2 Artifical Eye and Madman here in Oz released them all. Man Escaped came out on Blu Ray last year from Gaumont, miraculously with Subs and - I have to check - was Region all. Contrary to a few negative reivews I think the disc is glorious and compeltely beautiful. The problem with new reissues of late Bressons however has more than a bit to do with with Mylene's occasionaly touches of the Beatrice disease.

David Ehrenstein

The fact that the rich characters can buy off ANY transgression, are not in any way obliged to suffer the consequences of their actions, whereas Yvon's one indulgence of a resentment essentially dooms him, is clearly indicative of the fact that Bresson understood the class system, and its Evil heart.

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