Neither God nor Master: Robert Bresson and Radical Politics

Neither God nor Master: Robert Bresson and Radical Politics

Brian Price

Language: English

Pages: 264

ISBN: 081665462X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The French auteur Robert Bresson, director of such classics as Diary of a Country Priest (1951), The Trial of Joan of Arc (1962), The Devil, Probably (1977), and L’Argent (1983), has long been thought of as a transcendental filmmaker preoccupied with questions of grace and predestination and little interested in the problems of the social world. This book is the first to view Bresson’s work in an altogether different context. Rather than a religious—or spiritual—filmmaker, Bresson is revealed as an artist steeped in radical, revolutionary politics.
Situating Bresson in radical and aesthetic political contexts, from surrealism to situationism, Neither God nor Master shows how his early style was a model for social resistance. We then see how, after May 1968, his films were in fact a series of reflections on the failure of revolution in France—especially as “failure” is understood in relation to Bresson’s chosen literary precursors, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, and Russian revolutionary culture of the nineteenth century.
Restoring Bresson to the radical political culture from which he emerged—and to which he remained faithful—Price offers a major revision of the reputation of one of the most celebrated figures in the history of French film. In doing so, he raises larger philosophical questions about the efficacy of revolutionary practices and questions about interpretation and metaphysical tendencies of film historical research that have, until now, gone largely untested.

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implicit link Michelson draws between Byzantine iconography and cinema also points directly to the religious tradition of film criticism from which Bresson’s religious reputation emerged. 6 Introduction Ayfre’s religious reading is by no means a minor strain in Bresson film criticism. Ayfre was simply one part of a reinvigorated French film culture in the postwar period that was fueled by André Bazin. As Michelson implies, Bazin’s famous ontology of the cinema is likewise founded on the

numbers generated by chance should remind us of the title of the film itself, Au hasard Balthazar. Bresson admitted to naming the film around the rhyme created by hasard and Balthazar, one that directly suggests Balthazar as a figured both subject to and motivated by chance.9 Of course, chance here does not merely imply an unforeseeable contingency—at least not in every instance—but a rhetoric of deception in which what happens to Balthazar is meant to be understood (at least by characters

betray the idea that guides such an interpretation. Indeed, some of the most interesting criticism performed by the Cahiers critics involves the reconciliation of the seemingly incongruous film with the entire oeuvre as it has already been defined. Regularity trumps change every time, which is why the theory was ultimately amenable to a structuralist makeover in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But more importantly, the auteurist reading of Bresson that begins in Cahiers in the 1950s has been

this flag refers is fighting twice: once against Lancelot and once against an earlier opponent. Bresson solicits a similar connection when the green, blue, and orange flag is raised. He follows this close-up with a closeup of Lancelot’s leg and orange saddle cover: the same color orange that appears on the flag. We might begin to assume, at this point, that the flag we have just seen is Lancelot’s. However, he then cuts to an identical closeup of his opponent’s leg and blue saddle cover. It is the

twofold 158 The Agony of Ideas effect. On the one hand, his characters are continually subject to a dialogic mode of address; their identity remains in flux, resistant to the reification. On the other, the unfinalizability of the polyphonic novel promises to do more than affirm the reader’s worldview. The relational vision of the characters, to borrow Stam’s phrase, is extended to the reader. Our consciousness is broadened in the dialogical exchange between the characters themselves, between the

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