Bresson, Ranked

“Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.”

Bresson’s style of accentuating minimalist details — closing up and slowing down on body parts or material items — repletes his films with a transcendental slowing down of one’s perception of time. This sensibility bestows his films with a “certain lightness” (Andrei Tarkovsky), a certain gracefulness, and a sense of humility. Bresson’s films, particularly the masterpieces — Diary of A Country Priest, Au Hasard Balthazar, A Man Escaped, Mouchette, Pickpocket, Four Nights of A Dreamer, and Le Diable Probablement (in my opinion) — share a spiritual conscience of surrendering oneself; the films at once surrender themselves as well as their creator, Robert Bresson, to the concept of art: a means of connecting, through grace, to something beyond form, and, therefore, beyond aesthetics — a means of connecting to the spirit. In this way, he may be regarded as both a materialist and a spiritualist — the two concepts are not mutually exclusive. Bresson embodies the spirit in material, and, with grace, captures the spirit — what is beyond the simple form of the material — and illustrates it for the world to see. He is a true auteur and a true artist.

While Four Nights of A Dreamer is the most personally affective of his films, for me, I can’t put it above the other 5 for that reason alone. It is certainly worth mentioning, though. While the top 4 is definite, and, I think, easily Bresson’s greatest, they are rather interchangeable. You could take my top 4 and flip them in reverse and I wouldn’t really mind. Pickpocket is damn close to that level, too. L’argent has the potential to go up, as it is the only film I did not view during this two month period; I saw it a half a year ago, reviewed it, and didn’t feel the need to see it again just yet. It will be seen next, hopefully in the next few days if I can get a decent copy of it.

01. Diary Of A Country Priest (Journal d’un curé de campagne, 1951)

02. Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)

03. A Man Escaped (Un condamné à mort s’est échappé, 1956)

04. Mouchette (1967)

05. Pickpocket (1959)

06. Four Nights Of A Dreamer (Quatre nuits d’un rêveur, 1971)

07. The Devil Probably (Le Diable Probablement, 1977)

08.  Une Femme Douce (A Gentle Woman, 1969)

09. L’argent (1983)

10. Lancelot du Lac (1974)

11. The Trial of Joan of Arc (Procès de Jeanne d’Arc, 1962)

12. Les anges du péché (Angels of the Street, 1943)

13. Les Dames du Bois de Bologne (1945)

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About Kamran Ahmed

I have a Masters in Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto. I work as a freelance writer and film critic in Vancouver. My writing is primarily distributed through Next Projection, an online film journal based in Toronto.
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2 Responses to Bresson, Ranked

  1. Hora says:

    I’ve tried making lists of all types, but whenever I’m trying to rank by ‘quality’ or something simliar, I can never decide between two films. I know roughly whether a film should be near the top or bottom of a list, but never where exactly.

    You do say your top 4 are interchangeable, but it seems like you have a much easier time doing this since you have many lists on your site. Let me get to the point: what can you say about the usefulness of lists? For me personally, every movie affects me differently and speaks to me in a different way, that making a list is almost like trying to decide which emotions or experiences are more valuable. For this reason, I only use lists to add to my always growing list of films I’d like to watch.

  2. Kamran Ahmed says:

    I’m really not that good at making lists, unless it’s an easy one. For example, I had no trouble making my Malick list, but, then again, he only has 5 features. Don’t even try to get me started on a top 10 list. Films are regarded by so many different qualities that it’s difficult to put one over the other in an ‘overall’ sense. Depending on what I’m looking for in that exact moment, my opinions will change.

    That said, I think lists are useful by two means.

    1. They force the maker to think critically. Before I made the list, I played every film, clicking between scenes and reminding myself of the appreciable qualities, and the lasting impression the film made. In having to choose between the films, I have to make a decision, and coming to that decision is like giving it a somewhat permanent hold in my mind. The list shows where I feel each film deserves to stand — not in the world, but by my own self.

    2. It gives those who have not seen the films to get an idea about them. The person who has seen the films has taken the time and thought to create the list, so when one is watching the films, they can attempt to understand what thought was put in by them in order to reach the results they did. It’s also a great way to know which films deserve watching right away, in case you don’t have the time to go through all of them, or if you just want a taste of the auteur. In this way, the list again shows where I feel each film deserves to stand, but, this time, objectively, and in the world.

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