Sunday, April 4, 2010

1983: L'argent (Robert Bresson)

1983: L'argent (Robert Bresson)
If you're a Bob Dylan fan (count me among the many), and your introduction to Dylan came by way of his solo work, there is something almost shocking the first time you hear Dylan accompanied by a band. Same with Bresson and his work in color.  By the same I saw this late film in the director's career, I had probably seen six or seven of the director's other films, all in black-and-white.  

With Bresson and color, the formal elements take on a different effect, something slightly more psychedelic than austere.  However, the emotional impact and transcendental qualities are still very much intact.  In fact, along with Pickpocket, my experience with this one was the most powerful of any I have had with Bresson's work.  As always with the French master, the work sneaks up on you, gets under your skin, and leaves you in a different place than any other film work.  

Put this in a small group of Dreyer's Gertrud, Huston's The Dead, Murnau's Tabu, Ford's 7 Women, Becker's Le Trou, and Yang's Yi Yi. In other words, among cinema's greatest of all swan songs.  

Other contenders for 1983: I still have some things to see from this year.  These include: Wim Wenders' Hammett, Andrei Tarkovsky's Nostalghia, Abbas Kiarostami's Fellow Citizen, Charles Burnett's My Brother's Wedding, Bruce Beresford's Tender Mercies, Bill Forsyth's Local Hero, Kon Ichikawa's The Makioka Sisters, Bela Tarr's Almanac of Fall, Andrzej Wajda's Danton, and John Sayles' Baby It's You.  I need to revisit Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy as it's been too long since I've seen it to know where it'd place on this list.  But from this year, I really like Eric Rohmer's Pauline a la plage.  I love Chris Marker's Sans Soleil, Maurice Pialat's A nos amours, Alain Tanner's In the White Cityand Jim McBride's Breathless.  And my closest runner-up is Francis Ford Coppola's Rumble Fish.

5/21/11 I watched Bruce Beresford's Tender Mercies.  The film has a wonderful, lived-in look, a very memorable Duvall performance, and a feel for the wide-open Texas countryside that rivals any I've ever seen. But the plotting doesn't always feel organic to me, and there's a lack of regard for any real drama, ultimately leaving the film with a questionable pulse.  

7/7/11 I watched Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy.  A somewhat unusual film in Scorsese's body of work, and a strange, distant look at celebrity.  Might have some interesting things to say but so cold that I really don't care very much.

7/20/11 I watched David Cronenberg's Videodrome.  Incredibly original and confident early flick from the Canadian master. Intriguing, and fairly compelling, but not completely easy to empathize with, very much.  

8/25/11 I watched Bill Forsyth's Local Hero.  Sweet, character study with a lot of heart.  I just wish it had a little more vinegar in it to make its sentimental streak a little more palatable and affecting.

8/28/11 I watched Bela Tarr's Almanac of Fall.  Austere and hermetic.  I never really found my way in.  

10/19/11 I watched Jean-Luc Godard's First Name: Carmen.  There are absolutely some stunning lines and some stunning moments.  And of all the post-sixties work from Godard that I have seen, this is probably my favorite.  However, it still lacks the overall lyricism and vitality of the films of his that I love from the earlier period.  

7/21/12 I watched Tony Silver's Style Wars.  If you grew up with hip-hop like I did, this is one of the great documents of the era.  I first stumbled upon it reading an interview with Michael Rapaport around the release of his Tribe Called Quest doc.  It's a remarkably intimate look at the scene that would, just a year later, receive narrative treatment in the form of Beat Street and Breakin'.  And special mention to that song unspooling over the end credits, a lost gem, Rammellzee and K-Rob's Beat Bop.

6/23/16 I watched Paul Brickman's Risky Business.  Not sure I had ever seen the iconic film in its entirety.  Interesting to see the stylistic similarities to Thief (neon colors, Chicago setting and score courtesy of Tangerine Dream) and some of its thematic likenesses to The Graduate.  Entertaining and slightly more artful than most films of its kind even if not terribly deep or fully satisfying.

8/19/17 I watched Irvin Kershner's Never Say Never Again.  It's pretty tedious Bond even if Connery still looks amazing twenty years later and Basinger is as beautiful as the more beautiful Bond girls.  

2/19/18 I watched Charles Burnett's My Brother's Wedding.  In its subject matter, it could be looked at as an African-American Mean StreetsPierce resembling Keitel's character and Soldier that of De NiroAs different as Burnett is from Scorsese, both filmmakers have a special talent at bringing an over photographed city to life in ways we have never seen.  In fact, I would go so far as to call the combination of Burnett's first two features the most singular vision of Los Angeles the cinema has yet produced.  With rhythms as  unusual as Hal Hartley and nonprofessional acting as steadfastly noncommercial as Rossellini, Burnett represents a key stage in the neorealist timeline that history should do its best to remember.  

11/3/18 I watched FJ Ossang's Zona inquinata.  About as great of a mix as I could ever imagine of Boy Meets Girl, Repo Man, and Permanent Vacation.  Absolutely blew my mind with its formal beauty and uninhibited cinematic boldness.  

12/27/21 I watched David Cronenberg's The Dead Zone.  One of the stronger Cronenberg films I have seen where his directorial control is on full display (the atmosphere, the precise framing, the heightened use of music) while retaining a couple of characters we genuinely care for.

12/29/21 I watched John Sayles' Lianna.  It has been a while since I have watched one of Sayles' films.  I forgot how great he is with his actors and how lived-in his scenes look and feel.  What's most remarkable in this entry is Sayles' exploration of lesbianism in the early eighties, a time known in our country for being unusually conservative.

1/5/22 I watched James L Brooks' Terms of Endearment.  The most glaring problem for me is that the film is way overscored.  There are some terrific scenes and the final minutes can't help but move you but I found it far less impressive than Broadcast News.  

2/3/22 I watched Nagisa Oshima's Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.  I am still fairly new to Oshima's work, this being only the third or fourth film of his I have seen.  There's an intensity and anger in the films of his I have seen that are visceral and in your face.  Although not the most comfortable viewing experience, it does seem as though Oshima gives us an honest look at the depth of cruelty in war as well as some of the more humanistic experiences that would periodically take place.    

3/29/22 I rewatched Bill Forsyth's Local Hero.  Sweet but ultimately thin and unaffecting character piece.  .

9/30/23 I watched Bob Fosse's Star 80.  Roberts is surprisingly effective as the creepy, controlling boyfriend.  The movie is dark and uncomfortable and aside from Cabaret I continue to have a lukewarm relationship with Fosse as a director.

10/10/23 I watched Victor Erice's El Sur.  It is Erice's most accessible film I have seen to date.  A poetic and beautiful film that primarily explores the relationship between a daughter and her father and the views and feelings the young have for the older generation as they discover their flaws and their humanity.  


  1. I haven't seen this one, Jeffrey, and I seem to remember that the DVD was unavailable on Netflix when I wanted to watch it for my own countdown. My experiences with Bresson have been hit (A Man Escaped) and miss (Pickpocket), so I'm curious as to how I would respond to this one.

    My own selection has to be another Scorsese film - THE KING OF COMEDY. It most definitely is not a comedy, which seems obvious to fans of the film, but not so much to those with only a passing interest. It is an unsettling, weird film that can be just as terrifying as a film like TAXI DRIVER.

  2. "With Bresson and color, the formal elements take on a different effect, something slightly more psychedelic than austere. However, the emotional impact and transcendental qualities are still very much intact."

    Jeffrey I couldn't agree with you more! Brilliantly posed. The austerity is simply not the same in color, and it's much in evidence in this film, LANCELOT DU LAC and THE DEVIL, PROBABLY. But in any case, this year represents the first revearsal I've had during this countdown, meaning my #1 is a different film than what I indicated at Dave Hicks's place months ago. And lo and behold it is.....L'ARGENT!!! It was always very close between my No 1 and 2, so this revearsal is not a surprise to me. The reasons are very much what you indicate, that it slowly grabs you, and it's a work of universality and lasting emotional resonance.

    My Own #1 Film of 1983:

    L'Argent (Bresson; France)


    A Nos Amours (Pialat; France)
    Local Hero (Forsythe; UK)
    The Makioka Sisters (Ichikawa; Japan)
    Almanac of Fall (Tarr; Hungary)
    Sans Soleil (Marker; France)
    Koyaanisqatsi (Reggio; USA)
    The Dresser (Yates; UK)
    Ballad of Narayama (Imamura; Japan)
    The King of Comedy (Scorsese; USA)
    Testament (Littman; USA)
    Zelig (Allen; USA)
    Pauline at the Beach (Rohmer; France)
    Tender Mercies (Beresford; USA)

    Happy Easter to you and yours Jeffrey!

  3. Dave, your description of THE KING OF COMEDY seems to be pretty close to how I remember it. I definitely owe it another look here soon. I know it has a huge amount of fans.

    And I know that Bresson is completely a special taste. Some people don't really like him at all. But I'll be curious to hear how this one hits you.

    Thanks, Dave. Always a treat having you here! Happy Easter!

  4. Sam, thanks so much for the wonderful comments! I know that you and I often see the same when it comes to Bresson.

    Happy Easter to you, too! Thanks, Sam. Always such a treat having you here!

  5. Jeffrey, L'Argent is an excellent choice and sits near the top of my own list for 1983. I didn't have the same experience with it as you did because the first Bresson I saw was in color (Lancelot du Lac). So I saw it as more austere than psychedelic, given the brutal events of the story, but that approach made some moments more brutal.

    For 1983 I now lean toward Danton as my top film, so obviously it's my main recommendation from your to-do list.

  6. Samuel, great to hear from you! I definitely want to see DANTON. It sounds excellent.

    Yes, coming at L'ARGENT, having already seen a color Bresson, would definitely alter the experience. But glad to hear that you still love it.

    Thanks, Samuel. Always awesome having you here!

  7. Will need to see L'argent as I've never ventured into Bresson's 1970's output and beyond. I've only seen The Diary of a Country Priest, Pickpocket, and The Trial of Joan of Arc.

    One thing I wanted to mention briefly, Jeffrey: I'm delighted that you included My Brother's Wedding in your runners-up. I actually saw that film by accident when I ordered Killer of Sheep through my rental service, but was pleasantly surprised to find it almost just as great as KOS. Charles Burnett is one of our most overlooked filmmakers. My Brother's Wedding is probably the more painful to watch of the two films, as the Pierce character never seems to get a break. That ending with him toying around with his brother's engagement ring is among the most devastating I've ever seen. My only complaint with the film is that I think it ought to have been shot in black and white. The current color photography somewhat romanticizes all the bleakness onscreen.

    I've tried to see more of Burnett's films, most eagerly To Sleep With Anger, but many of them are still unavailable on DVD. In my Queue right now I've got Finding Buck McHenry, although I'm sort of hesitating to watch it because it looks more like a family film that Burnett must have done for money. Is it any good?

  8. Adam, if you like Bresson, I think you'll really like this one.

    As for Burnett, I really like him, too. But like you, I've seen very little of his work. I've actually never seen MY BROTHER'S WEDDING or FINDING BUCK MCHENRY. At some point though, I definitely want to catch everything he's done.

    Thanks, Adam. Always great to hear from you!