Hourigan is a London-based writer-director, and a friend of the late Robert
Bresson. He is also a long-time collaborator with robert-bresson.com.
Colin Burnett has a Master's in Film Studies from Concordia University,
Montréal, and has recently published on Bresson in Offscreen. The following interview, which was conducted by email
in September of 2004, is co-published with Offscreen.
The photograph shown below was taken by Jonathan Hourigan at the end of Principal
Photography on L'Argent. Photo may not be reproduced without the permission
of the photographer.
No one who is an admirer
of the films of Robert Bresson could possibly pass up the opportunity to correspond
with another who's actually worked with the director. And yet, such enthusiasm
— to which this interviewer inevitably succumbed — is a double-edged sword,
particularly when dealing with this director. After all, what exactly does
one hope to learn from such an exchange? Why does one interview a contributor/eye
witness at all? Is it really safe to assume, as many of us do, that the value
of such an account can be measured by the degree of insight it brings to the
films themselves? Can the insights into aspects that cannot be learned from
the films on their own be used authoritatively to 'read into' them? The desire
to know more about who Bresson was as a film director — his methods, the way
he worked with collaborators, the motions of choice and discard that went
into the production itself — is, at its most admirable, fueled only by curiosity.
So far, clear sailing.
The problem arises when interviews of this kind become attempts to lift the
veil behind which artistic intention hides, to expose what was really meant
by the film and its techniques. Here's where the ice gets dangerously thin
with regards to Bresson. Jonathan Hourigan's responses in the following interview
register with a level of discipline in such matters that I can only assume
that Bresson would himself have condoned (and which he tended to exercise
in the interviews he gave) and that the films themselves call for. In what
they say and what they don't say, these responses encourage a certain degree
of caution when tackling this body of work.
While I am personally fascinated with the finished films by virtue of the
array of interpretive associations they suggest, thus making Hourigan's suggestion
that Bresson was uniquely interested in the process of making films rather
than with the final product — for me at least — a difficult one to fully commit
to, I admire how Hourigan tip-toes around and through matters of meaning.
Even as he does not deny that Bresson's work 'means' (how could one possibly
do so?), he does speak of the films and the written material by means of a
series of prudently selected terms. Bresson's Notes on Cinematography
suggest a search for a "documentary of emotions;" L'Argent's
tone is "lucid" rather than pessimistic. Attentive and insightful
phrasing such as this, along with the argument for 'process' over 'product,'
triggering as many questions as answers, serves the subject matter well and
perhaps sets one on the path to discovering the deeper inner layers of this
ambivalent body of work.
interview was conducted by way of email correspondence.
Burnett: For about how long were you involved with the
Jonathan Hourigan: I arrived in Paris in late June 1982.
My first day working on L'Argent was Tuesday, 29th June, which I think
was the 10th day of Principal Photography. I arrived with the crew working
at the photographic shop, located on the Boulevard Henri Quatre. My abiding
memories of that first day were the oppressive heat, the apparently slow pace
of work and Italy's 2-1 victory over Argentina in the World Cup, to the great
delight of Pasqualino de Santis and his Italian crew.
I worked with the crew throughout the summer, in Paris and then in the country. Filming
was completed in late November and a first cut was screened within a very
few days. The film had already acquired a sinuous grace. I wrote in my production
diary of "Beauty and ease and overwhelming spirituality, especially
towards the end."
Thereafter, I regularly accompanied Bresson to the studios where editing and
work on the soundtrack continued for several months, prior to the film's premiere
at the Cannes Film Festival in spring, 1983.
What role or roles were you expected to play?
I wasn't 'expected' to play any particular role.
I arrived knowing nothing of the film industry, knowing virtually no French
and knowing only the very fully-occupied director amongst those involved in
the production. Gradually, as my French improved and I was accepted by the
crew, I assumed some of the responsibilities of, perhaps, a very lowly fourth
assistant director, running errands and holding back passers-by in the streets,
for example. I worked increasingly closely with Bresson's other three, far
better-qualified, assistants. I also appear as an extra in the film, as did
many of the crew.
But far more importantly for me, I was there to observe Bresson at close quarters,
during both Principal Photography and post-production. He was very generous
with his time, even when working under enormous pressure. We would talk daily,
either between set-ups or at the end of the day, or when driving to and from
locations and screenings.
How exactly did Bresson come to hire you?
It's more accurate to say that he invited me than that he hired me. Certainly
money never changed hands.
As I've said, I had no production experience, or even elementary French. I
had, however, corresponded with Bresson and we had met in Paris as a result
of my interest in his films. I had organised a retrospective in London in
1981 and written about his work. It became apparent that he was planning to
shoot L'Argent just as I was expecting to leave university and in early
1982 he invited me to Paris, unpaid, to observe the production. I took no
Describe the dynamics of the set. How did Bresson interact with/direct
That summer was very hot and work often seemed slow and frustrating, although
I had no basis for comparison. If I recall correctly, the unit call was generally
around midday for lunch and we would wrap at around 7pm.
Both Bresson and de Santis, the two dominant personalities, were painstaking
in their respective roles. Bresson would decide upon a set-up, discuss it
with de Santis and his operator Mario Cimini — which might result in some
minor modification — and then leave de Santis to light the scene. Bresson
would then return with his models and direct them with great precision. Although
Bresson was decisive about camera positions and his models' actions, getting
what he wanted — or needed, or sought — from a particular set-up or take was
often elusive. He might, therefore, require more than 20 takes and sometimes
as many as 40, only a few of which would be printed.
On 13th August, I wrote about Bresson's direction of models, "He cajoles,
encourages, seduces (roughly in that order) to get his way... Guillaume des
Forêts  told me R hasn't changed since he worked with R and that R still
exercises extraordinary charm, with a winning smile and endless wit. R's frustration
often seems more evident on this shoot."
Many of the crew had worked with Bresson before — including de Santis, of
course — and they were evidently bound together through professional respect
and affection. The length of the shoot and sickness did ensure some additions
to and subtractions from the crew. On some days Bresson was in great form.
On others, perhaps less so. But it's important to remember his age, the demands
being placed upon him, his own desires and frustrations and the fierce heat
of that summer.
As on all film sets, there were occasional frustrations and disagreements.
There were, for example, evident tensions between Bresson and his producers,
whilst Bresson and de Santis, who was not a fluent French speaker, also, inevitably,
clashed on occasions. But both men were also capable of enormous charm, warmth
and humour, both to one another and to others.
Bresson was always intensely focused and that implied some separation from
the crew. He worked especially closely with de Santis and Cimini, with his
assistants and especially with his first assistant, Mylène van der Mersch
and with the script supervisor, Françoise Renberg. Once a scene was prepared,
he also worked very closely with his models. Bresson was undoubtedly demanding
but most especially of himself.
Bresson has, on one occasion at least, intimated that his films are "experiments"
. What, in your mind and as a filmmaker yourself, was he experimenting
with, stylistically or technologically speaking, in L'Argent?
This is the territory that most interests me. My understanding and views have
evolved over the last twenty-odd years.
At the time of arriving on the set of L'Argent, I understood Bresson
to be endeavouring absolutely and faithfully to apply the principles outlined
in the Notes on Cinematography, which I then believed cohered in a
feasible theory. Very roughly speaking, those principles — and that theory
— seemed to me to imply a 'documentary of emotions'.
The automatism imposed on non-professional models allowed unconscious states
of soul to be revealed. These states of soul were apprehended by the dual
mechanisms of camera and tape recorder. Those revelatory fragments were given
expressive form during editing. Bresson conceived of editing as the rhythmic
binding together — and thus transformation — of these individually attenuated
images. This de-emphasises the significance of script as there is no sense
in which a script, laced with pre-determined meaning, is executed.
To that extent, a film is always an 'experiment'. Models' unconscious states
of soul, which comprise the 'substance' or 'meaning' of a film, cannot be
known in advance or predetermined.
The large number of takes reflect Bresson's tireless search for the authentic
revelation of such states of soul. That which he sought could not be communicated,
either to model or to collaborator. Hence Bresson's frustration and of course,
that of others.
More than twenty years on, perhaps I'm less of an absolutist, or purist, about
all of this now. My engagement with these issues began at the time, when I
was surprised, for example, at the occasional use of sets, rather than locations
and the extensive use of lights, both of which seemed to contradict the Notes
Today, then, I'd want to think a little more about narrative/script and also
about the justification for Bresson's unique approach in the expressive results
achieved, rather than in the extent of his adherence to a set of principles.
He was, after all, a practical — if rigorous — filmmaker and not a theorist.
The Notes on Cinematography are, themselves, working notes and attempts
to clarify a series of ideas and practical approaches.
So, thinking about script, tone and conventional narrative 'meaning', Bresson's
later films seem to delve deeper into the territory of pessimism, although
he might have preferred to say 'lucidity'. And clearly, even if he sought
a 'documentary of emotions', this was explored within the context of a very
definite narrative structure, with Bresson revealing quite clear tastes and
apparent influences in that regard.
To ignore narrative/script would be to ignore one of the major achievements
of L'Argent, that is, its extraordinary breadth and depth, all accomplished
within a mere, breathless 85 minutes of focus and concentration. Certainly
narrative breadth and depth would be one of the 'experimental' elements of
L'Argent. Only Lancelot du Lac compares in this regard, although
La Genèse would also have done so. It is worth noting that Bresson
kept very close to the script of L'Argent, whilst constantly searching
for new, surprising and expressive possibilities as and when they emerged.
Bresson was a noted stylist and minimalist. But making a film, whether writing,
shooting or editing, he was also committed to pursuing his intuitions spontaneously.
Perhaps, like all great, mature artists, he also sought simplicity, directness
and expressive depth. Again, all of these elements and ambitions influenced
his approach throughout L'Argent.
All films are, of course, to some extent 'experiments', their content and
'meaning' unknown and unknowable in advance. Even an obsessive genius like
Hitchcock, surely, did not transcend this essential feature of cinema — and
of all significant creative endeavours.
But for Bresson, the 'experimental' nature of his films was increased by his
pursuit of his models' 'states of soul' at the heart of his films and his
desire constantly to challenge, simplify and deepen his approach to filmmaking.
His concentration was, therefore, always on practice rather than on product.
In conclusion, on 4th August I wrote in my diary, "In the afternoon,
R summoned me outside and we spoke... He said that his first films were easy:
"I just did them. Like that," with a dismissive gesture. Now he
finds it harder to translate what is in his head onto the screen. "The
more you know and the more you work, the harder it gets." But he said
he still hoped to make La Genèse and to do so with the same freedom
of his earlier films."
You spoke earlier of "lucidity" in respect of Bresson's later
films. Is this a term that Bresson himself would use? Can you elaborate on
what it might mean, especially if it means referring to his earlier work as
anti- or non-lucid? What, for example, do these so-called lucid films have
that the earlier films lack?
"Lucidity" is a term Bresson used explicitly, although reluctantly
I suspect. He contrasted lucidity with pessimism when responding to those
who identified pessimism in his later films. Bresson's reluctance to explore
such distinctions reflected his concern to focus on process, rather than on
product and meaning. But he was not unaware of the debate. Mischievously outlining
L'Argent to me in 1981, with rather more than a twinkle in his eye,
he described it as "a very depressing film... It ends with five deaths."
So, if Bresson was reluctant to explore such distinctions, why did he do so?
After all, he was fiercely uncompromising in almost all other debates and
notoriously dismissive of questions he did not wish to address. I never discussed
this with Bresson but I suspect the development of the notion of "lucidity"
fulfilled two functions.
First, Bresson was not unaware of the narrative/tonal shift in his work, which
presumably at least partially reflected his shifting perceptions of the world
he experienced. But I find it impossible to agree with those who attribute
such a shift to his catastrophic loss of religious faith. I knew Bresson personally
over quite a long period and I find the trite biographical and psychological
'analysis' which develops this meretricious argument entirely unpersuasive.
Bresson was neither "an old man looking at the ruin of his face in
the mirror," nor "all dressed down with no place to go"
. I would not presume to comment on the extent or nature of Bresson's faith
as he aged but I know, with absolute certainty, that he was vibrant, engaged,
curious and passionate throughout his career and life.
If transcendence and grace seem less present in the lives of Charles in Le
Diable, probablement or Yvon in L'Argent than in the lives of Journal
d'un curé de campagne, Un condamné à mort s'est échappé, Pickpocket
or Au hasard, Balthazar, Bresson's abundant pity, tenderness and even
anger in the face of an increasingly brutal and brutalising world are no less
evident. Kent Jones perceptively writes "Does Bresson suspend the
possibility of redemption for Yvon? Not exactly. But by shifting the focus
from his hero to the forces that overpower him, the difficulty of attaining
redemption is given more of a place than redemption itself." 
That sounds ominously like clear-sighted lucidity to me in the modern era.
Le Diable, Probablement and L'Argent are not, therefore, films
of passive acceptance in the face of faithlessness and pessimism.
Furthermore, I wrote in January 1983, as L'Argent neared completion,
that "Although Bresson's later films have been increasingly superficially
pessimistic, they are nevertheless underpinned by a continuity of theme which
associates them with the earlier films." The devastatingly
articulate silences of Bresson's models and his concentration, in particular,
on their hands, expresses far more than Bresson's apparent pessimism. In L'Argent,
as in Pickpocket, continual images of the models' hands reveal their
extraordinary grace and genius: "Montaigne: The movements of the soul
were born with the same progression as those of the body." 
Secondly, I'd argue that "lucidity" had an urgent, combative function.
This second function is linked to the first but was, surely, far more important
to Bresson and is the reason, I suspect, that he was prepared even to comment
on the identification of "pessimism" in his oeuvre.
It is clear that, for the majority of those who identified pessimism in Bresson's
later films, this implied decline and diminution. Bresson would have been
somewhat unconcerned at commentators' interpretation of his films and the
identification of pessimism but he bristled at the facile and superficial
accusation of decline or diminution. Terrence Rafferty's recent article, for
example, separates "the first, and better, half of his career"
from those films where "faith seems gone for good, and Bresson by
this time has renounced even the small pleasures of dissolves and fades: he
now uses only straight cuts, as blunt and brutal as someone walking away in
the middle of a conversation." Of course, Rafferty's article does
not place the entire evidential burden on the elimination of dissolves and
fades but its strictures contrast powerfully with Kent Jones's analysis. Jones
writes that Bresson "and no one else has made the intensity of perception
a central component of the cinematic experience" and that "L'Argent
is a film whose every instant feels so utterly alive."  These
are not the negligible achievements of a diminished, superannuated pessimist.
They are, rather, the achievements of a master, continually striving and exploring.
And creating, with penetrating lucidity.
In conclusion, the various strands of biography, influence, theory and practice
that underpin Bresson's oeuvre and his conception of Cinematography are subtle
and intertwined. Elsewhere I've tried to sum it up as follows: "For
Bresson, uniquely steeped in classicism and Catholicism as much as committed
to modernism, cinematography was a working method, a tentative approach to
a new medium and one undertaken in isolation from the rest of cinema. The
theoretical purity of his cinematography is, finally, rather less important
than its practical justification in the richness, humanity, lucidity (Bresson's
preferred term for commentators' diagnosis of pessimism) and sheer beauty
of the films it underpinned."  This combination is the true and
abiding measure of Bresson's experimentation, uniqueness and undoubted genius.
How would you describe the film's photography? What were some of the important
choices that went into forging that look?
Again on 4th August I wrote, "Watching both the shoot and the editing
makes me realise how much even an 'auteur' such as R owes to his collaborators.
PdeS, certainly, is vital, his lighting achieving an evenness of tone and
richness and clarity of colour."
Clearly many of the decisions relevant to the photographic style of the film
were made in pre-production and thus, prior to my involvement and so I cannot
usefully comment. I certainly don't recall Bresson ever 'second-guessing'
de Santis about lighting whilst filming, although the time required to light
scenes would sometimes frustrate Bresson, who had a director's natural desire
and impatience to be shooting.
Lighting was not, then, much discussed on set, as far as I recall. But Bresson
was certainly endlessly searching for more expressive — in his restrained
terms — compositions. On 2nd July I wrote in my diary, "The first
exterior shot I have seen undertaken. An exterior of the photographic shop
and then a tracking shot to include the passing of the shop key between the
young guys. The structure of the tracking shot was suggested by Mario Cimini...
R had determined the action and then he and Mario agreed the structure of
the tracking shot."
Bresson would sometimes operate, or view the action through the lens, when
the camera was locked off for a particular shot. On 1st July, I noted, "The
assistant in the photographic shop today (LUCIEN, Vincent Risterucci) wrapped
a camera, opened the till and took a coin from the till at a pace which was
determined primarily by the camera's — and Mario's — ability to follow the
action and keep it in focus." On the other hand, actions that seemed
slow when being shot invariably achieved greater naturalness and apparent
pace on screen.
Many shots in the film seem to suggest a fascination with the movement
of sometimes barely discernible figures as they appear in reflected surfaces
like window panes, such as in the film's credit sequence, almost as a unique
way of making 'the eye' just as 'creative' as 'the ear.' This not only serves
to make the shots more 'dense' with information we need to process, but also
activates off-screen space in such a way that makes even slight camera movements
unnecessary (the reflections often allow us to see what could otherwise have
been communicated with a simple panning motion). Any idea how or why this
idea of using reflective surfaces in this way came about?
You're way ahead of me and I think, perhaps, even Bresson too. Is it demonstrably
true to say that L'Argent reveals such an apparent 'fascination', compared
with similar films? The relevant comparisons would, I suppose, be the other,
later, 'Paris films', such as Une femme douce, Quatre nuits d'un rêveur
and Le Diable probablement.
I recall the credit sequence being shot, at the very end of Principal Photography.
The ATM was photographed in a makeshift studio, rather than as an exterior
location shot, with lights being panned across the reflective surface, obviously
to suggest passing cars. Clearly, then, this was conscious and intentional.
And whilst I also recall other images that include reflective surfaces and
reflections, I'm not aware that this was predicated on the kinds of specific
considerations you suggest. Or, rather, I'm not sure that I'd want to make
too much of it.
My own view is that, of course, much of the film is shot in public spaces,
where reflective surfaces and reflections are often present. What is then
clear, I believe, is that the film, with its use of a large number of characters
and locations, with many extras and passers-by, conspires to draw us all into
orbit around l'argent, dieu visible and into complicity with Yvon's
fate. I think this sense of complicity was conscious. Reflections and reflective
surfaces were a necessary and unavoidable part of the public world in which
such complicity was suggested. And yes, reflections and sounds create density
and suggest off-screen space.
Bresson was never interested in diverging from the concentrated heart of the
narrative and so it was useful to create such density and to activate off-screen
space through such apparently spare means. But it's also worth noting that,
even if the ATM had been situated in a 'real' location, rather than in our
makeshift studio, the effective revelation of passing cars might have been
rather more demanding than "a simple panning motion." Such a pan
can be ugly, unmotivated — in a way that Bresson's camera is never externally
or objectively motivated — and actually quite difficult to achieve on the
crowded boulevards. The economy of the close-up, with panning lights, suited
all purposes, including allowing this unintrusive image to accompany the film's
Generally speaking, the image in a Bresson film is flattened by virtue
of various diffusion and even laboratory techniques. We know from other accounts
of the use of post-flashing and that de Santis refused to use lens diffusers
(he "never" placed anything in front of the lens save for interior
and night shots, apparently ). What else may have been used to 'soften'
the image here? Were these techniques specifically required by Bresson himself,
or did he leave the decision up to de Santis and crew?
Bresson's preference for individually attenuated, uninflected images is well-known
and relates to his conception of the transformation of such images during
the editing of a film. So, photographic quality, as well as the 'action' contained
within such images, was certainly an important consideration.
I've spoken before about Bresson's working methods and relationship with de
Santis and about de Santis' approach to lighting scenes. His approach on set
was to light extensively but always with diffused, bounced lighting, supplemented
with 'fill'. I did not make extensive notes in my diary about lighting set-ups,
apart from the length of time sometimes taken to achieve them! And at this
time, I was not sufficiently experienced to understand precisely what was
As for laboratory techniques, I really could not comment. I imagine that Bresson
will have been very clear about quality, tone and effect but will have left
the specific technical means of achieving these objectives to de Santis and
his crew, which Bresson will then have scrutinised with very great care.
Meanwhile, in my diary I noted that Emmanuel Machuel seemed to use less diffused
lighting than de Santis and to use smaller lights.
It is often said, erroneously in the case of Une femme douce
at least, that a Bresson film is "always" shot with a 50mm lens.
Was that the case here?
Isn't Une femme douce shot with a 50mm lens throughout? I haven't noticed
that. I love that film, its structure, rhythms, transactions and use of colour
but I haven't seen it in far too many years. I think it was the second Bresson
film I saw, after Au hasard, Balthazar.
In an interview in Philippe Arnaud's book , Machuel indicates that the
shot of Dominique Sanda's falling scarf at the beginning of the film was not
shot with a 50mm. He also says that the shot was not taken by him and that
it is the only instance, to his knowledge, of Bresson ever deviating from
his customary practice.
Ah, yes, that does make sense. I recall Bresson telling me that the shot of
the falling scarf required more than 60 takes. The nature and perspective
of the shot clearly required a different lens. A longer focal length lens
will have better framed the falling scarf but will also have made following
its unpredictable flight more difficult. And of course, merely framing it
throughout its descent will not, in and of itself, have satisfied Bresson.
I imagine that it was a very difficult shot to achieve to Bresson's satisfaction,
especially as it is so important within the structure of the film.
I thought that your question implied a more systematic departure from the
50mm lens, which would have surprised me. I couldn't imagine that any such
systematic departure would have been a case of necessity rather than choice
and yet I couldn't imagine where such divergence had occurred. I didn't keep
a record of the lenses used on L'Argent but I don't recall any change
of lenses. Bresson certainly had an unerring and uncompromising instinct for
framing, composition and camera movement
The accounts of de Santis' departure from the film seem to be conflicting,
or at the least, a little incomplete. Was it a big deal when de Santis left
the shoot? How did Bresson react?
I know enough about the production and about the circumstances of de Santis's
departure to know that I didn't know the full story at the time.
The departure of a Director of Photography during Principal Photography is
clearly unfortunate. I have commented before on the occasional tensions between
Bresson and de Santis and indeed, between Bresson and his producers. The production
was certainly not without difficulties. However, I have no reason to believe
that the relationship between Bresson and de Santis was worse than, or even
different from, that which prevailed during the other films they made together.
If I recall correctly, the Italians' contracts were completed prior to the
completion of the film's Principal Photography. Machuel was a more subdued
character than de Santis and whilst there were clearly issues and concerns
around the change of cinematographer, I believe that the finished film shows
no evidence of dis-continuity.
It is also worth remembering that, amongst the camera crew, Mario Cimini had
previously been absent with an eye infection and Michel Abramowicz with a
Production designer Pierre Charbonnier worked on all of Bresson's films
from Journal d'un curé de campagne (1951) to Lancelot du Lac
(1974) (save Mouchette ), yet little has been written of his
impact on Bresson's films. L'Argent itself was designed by Pierre Guffroy,
who did Mouchette. How closely did Bresson work with his production
I did not know Pierre Charbonnier but his long-term professional and personal
relationship with Bresson is well-known and extends back beyond even Affaires
publiques (1934). Pierre Guffroy had assisted Charbonnier, as well as
Bresson expressed a preference for location shooting but his photographic
objective — individually attenuated and uninflected images — required subtle,
unobtrusive but very careful production design. Much of a director's work
with a production designer is accomplished in pre-production and it is fair
to say that I, at least, was not very much aware of Pierre Guffroy's presence
during Principal Photography. But of course, many prison interiors and the
interior of the house in the country required construction, which may have
consumed much of his time.
Are there any personal anecdotes — about Bresson or any other crew member
— that you'd like to share?
Bresson was intensely private. I've already spoken about his humour, charm
and generosity. I might offer a few brief anecdotes from consecutive dates
in my diary that reveal the playful, vivacious side of his character and perhaps
the importance of some of these aspects in Bresson's work:
First, on 12th August, "Another very hot day, Banque de la Cité, Avenue
Matignon. Late afternoon, I had a drink on my own with R. Neither of us had
any money and so we shared a Perrier water... At one point today, someone
asked me if R was Rene Clair. I told R this as we had our drink and he was
amused. He asked if the man's name was Abel Gance, who recently died aged
On 13th August, "Métro Censier Daubenton. When we were here last night,
R delighted in the sounds of the Métro. All the different buzzes etc. He either
acted them out or conducted them as each train came or went — I wasn't sure
Bresson was an absolute demon in a car, either as the driver or as a — never
very passive — passenger. In both guises and even after a tough day's work,
he would insist on the vehicle being thrown around, overtaking and seeking
faster lanes and short-cuts. As a passenger, he would endlessly, impatiently,
issue instructions to whoever was driving. Crossing the Place Charles de Gaulle
at the end of most days always seemed pretty hazardous.
In similar vein, on 13th August I wrote, "On the way to the projection,
we pulled up at the top of Avenue Wagram
next to another car with its windows open. Very funky, urban music poured
forth, loudly and R leaned out of his window and told the driver that his
music was very beautiful. The young man looked at R, elderly and in the front
seat of our over-crowded vehicle, as though he were mad. R then started miming
to the music saying "this is how the modern music goes", bouncing
around in his seat."
Emmanuel Machuel was previously an assistant on Au hasard, Balthazar,
Mouchette and Une femme douce. There seem to be other examples
of individuals that Bresson 'groomed' over a series of films. In the Samuels
interview, it is intriguing that Bresson mentions that he wishes that
filmmaking were like Renaissance painting, that is, that there was a master-apprentice
structure of learning in place in the world of cinema. In some way, he accomplished
this, did he not? What did you learn as an apprentice yourself? Was he planning
on inviting you back for 'more grooming' for the ill-fated Genesis
I haven't seen the Samuels interview but classical allusions, examples and
metaphors were certainly congenial to Bresson. The Notes on Cinematography
are peppered with such references.
Working on L'Argent in my early 20's I was very struck by this from
the Notes: "The future of cinematography belongs to a new race
of young solitaries who will shoot films by putting their last cent into it
and not let themselves be taken in by the material routines of the trade."
This might seem to contradict the Renaissance notion of apprenticeship to
which you refer.
Bresson was certainly a sceptic about conventional film education and I also
wonder if there is a distinction between the apprenticeship of a director
and that of a cameraman. It's interesting, too, that technologies have subsequently
emerged which might truly allow "young solitaries" to go forth and
create with real independence. I suspect, however, that Bresson would not
be hugely impressed with much contemporary, low-budget production.
Bresson, like many other filmmakers on both sides of the Atlantic, worked
repeatedly with some collaborators. Some of those who worked as his assistants
— and perhaps Louis Malle is the most conspicuous example — went on to success
as directors. However, his influence on their work is probably clearer in
terms of sensibility than in terms of their pursuit of a Bressonian conception
What did I learn? That filmmaking is bloody difficult but profoundly worthwhile.
That it is not a profession to be entered into, or to be conducted, casually,
or in search of something outside the work itself. That serious intent does
not equate with sombreness. And perhaps, above all, that process should take
precedence over product.
At one point, it seemed that La Genèse would be made before L'Argent.
It was also possible that La Genèse would be made in a language other
than French. These circumstances meant that I had already been invited to
return for La Genèse.
 Guillaume des Forêts: Jacques, Quatre nuits d'un rêveur and a Judge
interview, Bresson states that he "likes exercise for its own sake,"
which is why he views his films as "attempts" rather than "accomplishments."
 Jonathan Hourigan, On
Two Deaths and Three Births — The Cinematography of Robert Bresson,
Stills Magazine, Autumn 1981, pp. 27-38.
 Terrence Rafferty, The Austerity Campaign
That Never Ended, New York Times, July 4, 2004.
 Kent Jones, L'Argent, BFI Modern Classics, BFI, 1999, pp. 35, 23.
 Robert Bresson, Notes on Cinematography, Editions Gallimard, 1975.
 MovieMail, 2003, http://www.moviem.co.uk/scripts/media_view.pl?id=63&type=Articles.
Jérôme Larcher, Ce que l'on voit dans la caméra: Entretien avec Emmanuel
Machuel, Cahiers du cinéma: Hommage Robert Bresson, February 2000, p.16.
Arnaud, Robert Bresson, Paris: Cahiers du cinéma, 1986, p. 161.