Bresson interviewed by the French press

The following excerpts are taken from Michel Esteve: Robert Bresson, collection Cinéma d'Aujourd'hui, 1962, no. 8, éditions Seghers, more specifically from a chapter therein which collects citations by, and interviews of, Bresson in the French press from the 40s through the 60s. The material was translated from French into English exclusively for by our "friend in Paris." It is presented here for the first time in English. We are certain you will agree that no one can beat Bresson himself when it comes to speaking of his films.

"It is the inside that commands. I know that it may seem paradoxical in an art that is all about the outside. [...] Only the conflicts that take place inside the characters give its movement to the film, its real movement.[...] A film is the typical kind of creation that claims a style. It needs an author, a writing. [...] What the director has in sight, is an effect to produce or a series of effects. If he is conscientious, his preliminary work will consist precisely of going back from the effect to the cause. Starting from what he wants to obtain, the emotion of the audience, he looks for the best combinations to create that emotion. It's a path walked backwards, with choices and rejections, mistakes, interpolations, that fatally leads him to the origin of composition, that is to say the very composition."

L'Ecran Français, November 17, 1946.

"What I am looking for, it's not really the expression through gesture, words, mimics, but expression through rhythm and a combination of images, through their position, their relation and their amount. Before anything else, the purpose of an image must be the exchange. But for that exchange to be possible, it is necessary that these images have something in common, that they participate together in a sort of union. That's why I try to give to my characters a sort of linkage, and ask my actors (all my actors) to speak in a certain way, to behave in a certain way, which is always the same one.

"[...] Yes, for me, the image is like a word in a sentence. Poets elaborate a vocabulary. They willingly use desperately common words. And it's the most common word, the most used, which, because it's in its right place, all of a sudden shines extraordinarily."

Supplément Lettres et Arts à Recherche et Débats no. 15, March 1951.

"I think cinema is misguided, that it has its own language, its own means, and that it has gone wrong since its birth, that is to say it's trying to express itself using tools which are those of the theatre. But there are wonderful actors in theatre. Believe me, I have such a hard time because I don't use them, it's really not for my pleasure. But I believe in the very particular language of cinema and I think that, once you try to express something through mimics, through gestures, through effects in the voice, it can no longer be cinema, it becomes filmed theatre.

"[...] Cinema is not that: it has to express not through images, but through their relation to one another, which is not the same thing at all. Just like a painter who does not use colours, but their correlation; blue is blue in itself, but next to green, red or yellow, it is not the same blue anymore: it changes. The aim is for the film to be made of such a correlation of images, you take two images; they are neutral, but all of a sudden, next to each other, they vibrate, life enters them: and it is not really the life of the story or of the characters, it's the life of the film.

"[...] I don't know what you mean by mysticism... I think that in a film, there is also what you did not put in it. You have to put things without putting them; I mean that everything which is important must not be there at the start, but end up there in the end. So what you just called mysticism must come from what I feel in a prison, as the second title [of A Man Escaped] says, the wind blows where it wishes. It is those extraordinary currents, the presence of something or somebody, call it what you want, or a hand that controls everything. Prisoners are very sensible to this strange atmosphere, which is not a dramatic one: it is on a higher level. There is no apparent drama in a prison : you here people getting shot, but nobody grins for it. It's normal, it's part of life in prison. The drama is inside.

"[...] The subject is not in those hands that strangle; it's somewhere else, in those currents flowing. At this moment, objects are — and this is quite odd — much more important than characters. That terrace up there, this wall, this black, the sound of a train are more important than what is happening. Objects and noises are then, in a mystical sense if you want, in intimate communion with man, and it's much more serious, much more important than hands strangling a sentinel."

Cahiers du Cinéma, no. 75, October 1957

What place do you give to cinema among other arts?
I don't know its place. But it may be able to capture this... thing that words can't tell, that shapes and colours can't render. Using several combined means.

In your last films, you used a commentary. What kind of value do you give it?
It's a rhythm. It's another element that interacts with the other elements in the film, that modifies them. I can affirm that in my Condamné the drama unfolded from the meeting of the tone of this commentary with the tone of the dialogues.

I think you began Pickpocket shooting freely in the streets. Then you changed your method.
I had been told: "Hide, it's easy." I hid. I have quickly discovered. I had to use tricks. A hidden camera is not precise. The crowd is a mess. I used that mess in some shots.

And the sequence at the Gare de Lyon?
It was shot entirely in the crowd, in july, during the departures. It needed the camera to be very mobile, thus requiring rails, a dolly, marks on the floor... nothing that could have been hidden. On top of that, there was din and jostling.

Why do you impose such difficulties to yourself?
To capture only reality.

In Pickpocket, camera movements are not visible.
No more than in my other films where camera constantly moves.

You don't want it to be seen?
It's not a moving eye but a vision.

Are these dolly shots used to maintain the same distance with the subject?
Not the same distance. On the contrary, it's never the same distance. It's the necessary distance. There is only one place in space where something, at a precise moment, asks for being seen.

Cahiers du Cinéma, February 1960. Interview conducted by Jacques Doniol-Valcroze and Jean-Luc Godard.

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