Lancelot du Lac
Lancelot du Lac (French, 1974) — This is the original 20 cm x 30 cm French pressbook from 1974 with art by Savignac
and stills from the film and photos from the set of the film. The entire programme, which includes an interview
with Robert Bresson (previously published in L'Avant-Scène du Cinéma no. 155, février 1975, pp. 46–49), has been translated into English for
robert-bresson.com by Jon Lomax. Further helpful advice provided by Jonathan Hourigan.
Scans provided by Mastersofcinema.org's own Nick Wrigley.
(click on images in collage to enlarge)
An English translation of the sixteen pages of the pressbook
Lancelot du Lac
a film by
Jean YANNE and Jean-Pierre RASSAM
LANCELOT DU LAC
by Robert Bresson
Lancelot of the Lake Luc Simon
The Queen Laura Duke Condominas
Gawain Humbert Balsan
The King Vladimir Antolek-Oresek
Mordred Patrick Bernard
Lionel Arthur de Montalembert
Joseph Patrick Le Quidre, Charles Balsan, Christian Schlumberger, Jean-Paul Leperlier,
Guy de Bernis, Philippe Chleq, Jean-Marie Becar, Antoine Rabaud, Marie-Louise Buffet,
Director Robert Bresson
Director of Photography Pasqualino de Santis
Production Designer Pierre Charbonnier
Sound engineer Bernard Bats
Editor Germaine Lamy
Script Supervisor Geneviève Cortier
Assistant director Jean Pieuchot
Stunts Yvan Chiffre
Special effects Alain Bryce
Director of production Michel Choquet
Representative Producers Jean-Pierre Rassam
Music Philippe Sarde
LANCELOT DU LAC
SYNOPSIS OF THE ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
It is well known that the "Quest for the Grail" is the last adventure of the
knights of King Arthur (the Knights of the Round Table). It was to
mark their apogee; it marks their decline. In fact, the youngest of
the knights, Perceval (Parsifal), "The Pure", is the only one able to
approach the Grail and seize it. After which he leaves for Jerusalem
with the divine relic.  The others (who ignore and will always
ignore this event) after much combat, as bloody as it is pointless,
abandon the Quest. The film starts at the moment where they turn
about-face and make their way back. Lancelot rides with his head hung
low. He is the greatest knight in the world. He is not bringing back
the Grail. For the first time in his life, he is seen to be defeated.
 The Grail is the vessel in which Jospeh of Arimathea collected the
blood of Christ on the cross. It is believed hidden somewhere in
Brittany. A supernatural power is attributed to it.
At Arthur's castle the atmosphere is of one of catastrophe. More than
a hundred of his knights left, but Arthur only sees around thirty of
them return. Arthur and his knights have taken on a superhuman
enterprise. He believes in a punishment from above. Fear paralyses
him. He commands his knights to inaction, for them to put down their
arms. This is against the council of his young nephew Gawain
(hot-headed, his best knight after Lancelot) who, contrary to Arthur,
sees salvation in the former times of violent days and risk. We are
in an obscure world. It is certain that Arthur and his knights are
battling against the Invisible which manipulates them. Aside,
Lancelot is the secret lover of Guinevere. This sinful love has
prevented him from finding the Grail and bringing it back to the
castle; it is the cause of the catastrophe. Lancelot is convinced of
this. He is resolved to change his life. Guinevere doesn't see the
situation in the same light. The two lovers have their secret
meetings in a tower at the edge of the forest. Guinevere battles with
all the strength of desperation to save her love. Little by little
Lancelot transforms himself morally and one can believe that he, well
in the wrong, becomes physically weak. He, who has no fear of anyone
in the world, cannot see the danger that menaces him, just as it
menaces the Queen and also the other knights. Morded (mediocre
knight, jealous soul) hates Lancelot and looks for his downfall. With
a handful of knights who he has given big ideas to, Morded has a
breakthrough finding the meeting place in the tower. Of course the
King knows nothing of what's going on. No one would dare bring this
up. Morded waits for the right moment... However, Guinevere yields
to the supplications of Lancelot and renounces her love. In the
castle, at the same time, by a strange coincidence, things change.
Chance turns and confidence returns. The atmosphere relaxes. In view
of a tournament, the Knights cheerfully take up their arms again.
However, it's at their last meeting, just at the moment when the two
lovers swear that all is finished between them, that an irresistible
force pushes them into each other's arms. From then on, Lancelot will
have to accomplish tour de force after tour de force, miracle upon
miracle, nothing will stop the machine that is on the move. The
scandal blows up in his absence. Injured in the tournament, he
disappears. Guinevere is thrown into panic. Morded unmasks her. She
courageously proclaims her love. Gawain attempts to save her.
"Spiritual love," says Gawain, "not carnal." She is thrown into a
dungeon. Lancelot returns, rescues her. To rescue her, he must kill
many knights. Lancelot, Guinevere and around fifty knights, friends
of Lancelot, take refuge in a castle that is besieged by Arthur. In a
sortie, Lancelot, failing to recognise his admirer and affectionate
friend, fatally wounds young Gawain who has taken up arms alongside
Arthur. In accordance with Gawain's dying wish, that no more blood
should be spilt, Arthur proposes that, on condition Lancelot leaves,
he will take back Guinevere as wife and Queen (adultery would never be
proven). A long night passes during which Lancelot and Guinevere
decide to separate for all time. Lancelot solemnly returns the Queen
to the King. Mordred has stayed at the castle and stirred up the
neighbours. His intention is to take Arthur's place. Without
hesitation, Lancelot takes up arms in the service of Arthur against
Mordred. In the final battle Arthur and the remaining knights are
overwhelmed. Lancelot dies murmuring (beneath his helmet):
INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT BRESSON
Interviewer: What have you attempted with this subject?
Robert Bresson: To draw out that which is our mythology. And a situation, that of the knights returning
to Arthur's castle without The Grail. The Grail, that's to say the absolute, God.
The Grail, Christian symbol...
Yes, but a Grail already figures in pagan Celtic legends. Curiously as well, one can find
in Le Chevalier à la Charrette, from the 12th century, something of the Greek myth of
Orpheus and Eurydice.
I know that it repels you to speak of your films. Yet, all the same, I'd like you to say a
few more words on Lancelot du Lac and what you've come to achieve.
What is it, this film?
I know nothing of it.
Is it a 'super-production'?
There are horses, knights in armour, a tournament...as anachronistic as possible.
You need to remove the past to the present if one wants to make it believable.
This Middle Ages of your invention, has it cost a lot?
Usually, expense doesn't bring good luck to the cinematograph. Fortunately, for
Lancelot du Lac a lot of money wasn't a luxury.
One can expect widespread brutality, widespread violence...
As in these Breton adventures tales where blood runs over all corners of the land.
One can expect as well, I suppose, a grand love...
Lancelot and Guinevere, it's Tristan and Isolde without the love potion. Predestined
love, passionate love battling against insurmountable obstacles. It's this love and its
fluctuations which give their movement to the film... There you go, I've told you
One more second...you have, of course, written everything yourself.
Because I need, from its origin, to be the absolute master of its ideas, In any case, and
with great reason, if one wants to improvise...
Have you improvised a great deal?
I'm believing more and more in the necessity of improvisation.
I wrote it a long time ago. I retouched it little by little during the filming.
Do you look for difficulty?
It clings to me. Same as speed. I've often noticed that that which I've not been able to
resolve on paper, if I resolve it on location, whilst filming, it's that which I do the best.
Filming with horses, knights in armour, an enormous cast of extras — has that not
bothered you? You've not been accustomed to this.
Contrary to what people think, when you can do it with a little, you can do it with a lot.
Besides, having bigger means...
...doesn't stop the capturing of details, suggesting rather than showing, giving
prominence to the sound. The tournament sequence was staged for the ear...as elsewhere,
eventually all the other sequences.
You didn't have any physical difficulties with your horses?
They hadn't been rented but bought and prepared well in advance for the armour and
lances. They were young and difficult. I had good horsemen.
Good horsemen — non-actors –... it's been said that you hate actors.
Absurd... Some of my best friends are actors. It's as if one said: "He's a painter,
therefore he doesn't like sculptors." I like the theatre, I like actors. But I wouldn't be able
to work with them. I don't ask anyone to follow me.
To finish up, how do you look for those that you call your "models"?
Formerly, I looked and choose them for their moral resemblance to my characters. This
approach cost me a great deal of time. Today, as long as nothing appears that is contrary,
my decision is made.
Characters of our own invention are all too much of a piece. Reality is full of
eccentricities that don't appear till much later. Above all, I rely on my flair and to chance.
There is, nevertheless, the voice, which is a divine thing. Taken apart, separately to any
physical aspect, it doesn't permit one, or nearly doesn't permit one to be misled.
The direction of actors?... I mean to say, of your "models".
It isn't a question of directing someone, but of directing oneself. The rest is telepathy.
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