Book Review: BRESSON PAR BRESSON (Flammarion, 2013)

 

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This exciting book, edited by Mylène Bresson, collects for the first time several print, radio and TV interviews with Robert Bresson published between 1943 and 1987. (The cover’s dates say 1943-1983, which is misleading. Bresson’s final interview in the late 80s, on the rediscovered print of Les affaires publiques, is included here.)

The collection is worth purchasing for the dozen or so unpublished production stills alone, especially the one of Bresson staging a key tracking shot during the making of Procès de Jeanne d’Arc.

Unfortunately, the text is neither exhaustive nor, it seems, is it entirely reliable. Inexplicably, several major and minor interviews are missing, including Bresson’s first in 1934, his wide-ranging exchanges with the students of the IDHEC in 1955 and with Charles Thomas Samuels around the time of Une femme douce, one or two short TV spots from 1983 where he praised the recent Bond film, For Your Eyes Only, and a few others.

I can’t explain every omission, but as to the first, Mylène mentioned to me in 2009 (while just beginning to collect, transcribe and in some cases translate these statements) that the short 1934 interview was of little interest and, what’s more, Bresson had not been given the opportunity to revise it prior to publication. Neither one of these reasons, in my estimation, really justifies the decision to omit the director’s first public statement–an interesting one at that–from the volume.

As for reliability, while the original citation is given for almost every interview, again inexplicably one interview consists of “questions and answers culled from many interviews conducted in 1969 for the release of Une femme douce.” No indication of where the interviews appeared is given.

These difficulties aside, the book is a welcome one. Among other things, it allows us to track the auteur’s evolving rhetoric. We learn that he only began to call his non-professional actors “models” after 1970, which suggests that his 1975 book, Notes sur le cinématographe, retroactively revises aphorisms written between 1950 and 1958 to fit his preferred phrasing in the 1970s. This collection also includes many rare gems, particularly a 1949 radio interview where Bresson promotes the upcoming Festival du film maudit.  

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