Bresson. I have two big masterpieces for Bresson (A Man Escaped, Pickpocket) that show well in my top 500 but that’s it for Bresson there. I’ve yet to have a 3rd (or 4th or 5th) film from him emerge. Until then, it’s unlikely I’ll have Bresson move up my list. Two interesting quotes here I found on Bresson from great sources. “Bresson is perhaps the only man in the cinema to have achieved the perfect fusion of the finished work with a concept theoretically formulated beforehand”- Tarkovsky. “He is a great director, even if no other great director seems less intrigued by cinema itself.”- David Thompson.

Best film:  A Man Escaped. The best of Bresson- wonderful ascetic style. It’s largely about a man in a room. We have Bresson’s heavy voice-over inner monologue, reoccurring shots of hands and feet and stark background.

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hand detail– elliptical editing — here in A Man Escaped
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existential, spiritual and physical prisons — here in A Man Escaped

total archiveable films: 10

top 100 films: 1 (A Man Escaped)

top 500 films: 2 (A Man Escaped, Pickpocket)

top 100 films of the decade: 5 (A Man Escaped, Pickpocket, Au Hasard Balthazar, Mouchette. Diary of a Country Priest)

stark imagery- a gorgeous one here in Diary of a Country Priest

most overrated:  Au hasard Balthazar– I tried it in 2010 and again 2014. I’m due again. I appreciate the meticulous editing and Bresson’s deeper parable and work with his actor/model here (a donkey in this case). Certainly I’m not done with this film but I can’t get behind TSPDT having as #32 all-time.

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hands and feet focus– detailed and deliberate — here in Au hasard Balthazar

most underrated: A Gentle Woman. I have it as Bresson’s 5th best and yet it’s not one of the 9 films on the TSPDT consensus top 1000.

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an image that could be from virtually any Bresson film- this one from the underrated A Gentle Woman

gem I want to spotlight:  Pickpocket. I’d start either here or with A Man Escaped if you are looking for one Bresson film or to start a study. The Paul Schrader intro on it for Criterion is excellent (and the film clearly had a profound impact on him and all of his work- particularly Light Sleeper and First Reformed). The existential spiritual prison, obviously more reoccurring shots of hands (sometimes stealing things here), inner monologue voice-over, diary writing, shots of man in prison or caged.

from Pickpocket

stylistic innovations/traits:   Bresson’s films are made with tremendous care; very deliberate and detailed. I love the beautiful elliptical editing in most of his work. I love the voice-over in some films (A Man Escaped) and feel totally bogged down by it in others (Diary of a Country Priest). Certainly he is a Christian artist and much has been written about his achievement of transcendence through style. I certainly can appreciate his work in this area. One think I also appreciate is how he consistently drained his “models” (he called his actors “models” instead) completely of emotion. There’s nothing like it in cinema history from what I’ve seen (ok—Dreyer’s work is there, too) but it formally matches the stark mise-en-scene, elliptical editing, and formal structure.

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from L’argent

top 10

  1. A Man Escaped
  2. Pickpocket
  3. Au Hasard Balthazar
  4. Mouchette
  5. A Gentle Woman
  6. Diary of a Country Priest
  7. L’argent
  8. Lancelot of the Lake
  9. Les Dames du bois de Boulogne
  10. The Trial of Joan of Arc

By year and grades

1945- Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne- R
1951- Diary of a Country Priest HR
1956- A Man Escaped MP
1959- Pickpocket MP
1962- The Trial of Joan of Arc R
1966- Au Hasard, Balthazar HR
1967- Mouchette HR
1969- A Gentle Woman HR
1974- Lancelot of the Lake
1983- L’Argent

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives