The violence that opens the film will, of course, be mirrored in the end. It is portrayed in graphic detail, with the distance one might expect from Robert Bresson. It is austere, yes, and almost hilariously so: can a beheading, complete with a great spurt of too-red blood, be shown more matter-of-factly? The sequence is mechanical in its depiction: armored knights in a forest slay each other, and ride their steeds through the same forest. Corpses are strung up on trees, or burned, and churches ransacked. Bresson’s camera drives these faceless warriors again and again through the backdrop of their carnage. The repetitions seem to set up the inevitability dogging the film’s primary characters, who should be familiar to anyone acquainted with Arthurian lore. And the trees, which vertically stake the frame together—their tightness creating a cloistering effect for the figures within—will echo throughout the film in the reappearance of other lines, among which those aforementioned figures continually stare, as if entranced by the narrative they cannot help but dutifully enact. […]
Have you ever felt that your life, while real in the most personal sense, could also exist simultaneously elsewhere, even if lived by some other person? Just what might that entail? In my youth, I’d often imagine living in France—perhaps I’d have moved there after living as an exchange student, but then, I’d remember the emotion that brings me back to the familiar. And while it is easy to romanticize, one must remember that wherever this imaged place and person resides, that the same problems will exist there—perhaps not in degree, but in kind.
Krzysztof Kieślowski’s The Double Life of Veronique is indeed a film of feeling. In fact, this is how Roger Ebert opens his review: ‘Here is a film about a feeling. Like all feelings, it is one that can hardly be described in words, although it can be evoked in art. It is the feeling that we are not alone, because there is more than one of us. We are connected at a level far, far beneath thought. We have no understanding of this. It is simply a feeling that we have.’ He chooses the word feeling, and while I don’t disagree, my instinct wants to instead reach for the word intuition, which is somewhat similar, but evokes more of the body—taste, touch, sensation. Within this film, that which goes on is rarely stated, but implied. […]
There are some animated films that are not made for kids. In fact, some are not even made for most adults, and this may be one of them. So, let us not be mistaken that René Laloux’s Fantastic Planet (La Planète sauvage) is, on all accounts, a savage and violent tale where humans (called Oms) are nothing more than tiny animals forced to bend to the whims of larger, more ‘sophisticated’ creatures, called Draags. Within this post-apocalyptic world, the Draags rule and humans at best are regarded as nothing more than pets and at worst, they are vicious vermin deserving of extermination.
Fantastic Planet opens with a frightened human (Om) mother running with her baby. She appears terrified, and in her attempt to find safety, she climbs up a hill, only to then be pushed down by some large, blue hand. Once more, she attempts to climb, and is pushed down again. Still clutching her baby, the hand then flicks her several feet away. Suddenly, the blue fingers lift and drop her, wherein the force of the fall inevitably kills her. ‘What a shame. We can’t play with it anymore,’ says a group of three Draag children. Following that, a young Draag child and her Draag leader father approach the scene. The Draag child (Tiwa) asks if she can keep the orphaned baby Om as a pet. ‘Why is he crying, father?’ she asks. ‘He must be scared. Or hungry,’ her father replies. He allows her to keep the baby Om, but instructs, ‘You must take care of that animal.’ […]
Robert Bresson is a director who does not veer from the suffering a character must undertake at the cruelty of others. This is most prominent in The Trial of Joan of Arc, Mouchette, and Au Hasard Balthazar where we witness some being—be it person or animal—that is beaten under the brunt of some hostile society. Within all three films, each ends in dying or death. No one seems to have any empathy for the one suffering. Yet within Diary of a Country Priest, the ‘little priest’ as he is condescendingly referred to, undergoes very much the same. Unlike the pastor in Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light, the priest’s faith remains unwavering, as he desperately claims to need prayer like ‘oxygen in his blood.’
The priest, played by Claude Laydu, is somber, morose, and moves about quietly and helplessly. His illness leaves him physically weak. He only smiles once in the film, and that is when he is on a motorcycle. Roger Ebert notes that this is the moment that perhaps rekindles his childhood. Memories of his youth, when there must have been an earlier joy. He has chosen this vocation on purpose, but for what purpose is this? Has Christ abandoned him just as well, as he remains in this otherwise small, petty, country town? Meanwhile, the locals leave threatening notes ordering him to leave. […]