Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: In the spirit of Life Of Riley, the final film by Alain Resnais, we’ve singled out other swan songs from master directors.
Robert Bresson’s development as a filmmaker could be described as a process of elimination. Bresson was concerned with getting down to the essence of things, and that including stripping his own style down to fundamentals: 50mm lenses, three-quarters compositions, soundtracks that rarely used music and more often than not provided a counterpoint to what was in the frame. He began to do with away with conventional acting after his second feature, Les Dames Du Bois De Boulogne, preferring to use affectless non-professional performers—“models,” as he called them. He routinely discarded tools in an effort to find the ones that were truly invaluable; his end goal was to exorcise the ghost of theater from filmmaking, and bring it into closer alignment with his first passion, painting.
Interestingly, the one thing Bresson never attempted to do away with was narrative. A Man Escaped and Pickpocket both double as superb thrillers; the pickpocketing scenes in the latter as well as the jousting sequence in Lancelot Du Lac betray the famously ascetic stylist’s knack for creating suspense and action. Though Taxi Driver and American Gigolo, both scripted by Paul Schrader, are presented as the go-to examples of Bresson’s influence on American film, his closest New Hollywood parallels are actually Walter Hill’s The Driver and the opening sequence of Michael Mann’s Thief.
Bresson had a thing for 19th-century Russian literature, having adapted Dostoevsky twice; for his final film, L’Argent, he took inspiration from Tolstoy, transposing the writer’s posthumously published novella The Forged Coupon into modern-day France. The film is non-stop movement; it starts with the handing off of a counterfeit 500-franc note and then rigorously tracks its repercussions, ending with one of the most unsettling murder scenes in film history. Like Bresson’s earlier masterpiece Au Hasard Balthazar, it’s one of those movies that seems to contain a complete vision of the world, informed by a fully formed sense of what filmmaking can and should do—which seems all the more remarkable when you consider that it runs just over 80 minutes.
Availability: L’Argent is available to stream through Hulu Plus.