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2 minute read
Richard Corliss

The Hollywood style–brash, chatty, muscular–is the only one most moviegoers know. But there is another, sparer sort, where penetrating gazes take the place of explosive technical virtuosity. It is caviar to the Hollywood popcorn, and for 40 years ROBERT BRESSON was its finest and most influential purveyor. In 13 features from Les Anges du Peche (1943) to L’Argent (1983), the Frenchman who called himself a “jolly pessimist” went his own thorny way and, through his severe, seductive example, established the dominant style of a minority art form. His films, with little dialogue and music, are in effect silent pictures; they are certainly moving pictures, for they tell stories of people drawn toward death or transfiguration. Bresson was preoccupied with the mysterious workings of God’s will, with saints ground down by sinners; Diary of a Country Priest and The Trial of Joan of Arc depict a state of grace under pressure. But all his attractive heroes, whether explicitly religious or not, are trudging up their own private Calvary. In Mouchette, the beautifully pitiless story of a teenage outcast so maladroit that she must try three times before she succeeds in drowning herself, the girl’s schoolmates sing one refrain as if it were a prayer: “Hope–for more hope.” Bresson’s films, handmade and precious, gave viewers hope for a more exact, more exalted form of moviemaking.

–By Richard Corliss

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