World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Robert Bresson

Robert Bresson
Portrait of Robert Bresson
Born (1901-09-25)25 September 1901
Puy-de-Dôme, Auvergne, France
Died 18 December 1999(1999-12-18) (aged 98)
Paris, France
Occupation Film director, screenwriter
Years active 1933–1983
Spouse(s) Leidia van der Zee (m.1926)
Marie-Madeleine van der Mersch

Robert Bresson (French: ; 25 September 1901 – 18 December 1999)[1] was an acclaimed French [2] Godard himself once wrote, "Robert Bresson is French cinema, as Dostoevsky is the Russian novel and Mozart is German music."[3]


  • Life and career 1
  • Themes 2
  • Legacy 3
    • Worldwide 3.1
    • French Cinema and French New Wave 3.2
  • Quotes 4
  • Awards and nominations 5
  • Filmography 6
    • Feature films 6.1
    • Short films 6.2
  • Bibliography 7
    • By Robert Bresson 7.1
    • About Robert Bresson 7.2
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10
    • Informational 10.1
    • Interviews 10.2

Life and career

Bresson was born at Bromont-Lamothe, Puy-de-Dôme, the son of Marie-Élisabeth (née Clausels) and Léon Bresson.[4] Little is known of his early life. He was educated at Lycée Lakanal in Sceaux, Hauts-de-Seine, close to Paris, and turned to painting after graduating.[5] Three formative influences in his early life seem to have a mark on his films: Catholicism, art and his experiences as a prisoner of war. On his beliefs, Bresson had called himself a "Christian atheist".[6][7] Robert Bresson lived in Paris, France, in the Île Saint-Louis.

Initially also a photographer, Bresson made his first short film, Les affaires publiques (Public Affairs) in 1934. During World War II, he spent over a year in a prisoner-of-war camp - an experience which informs Un condamné à mort s'est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut (A Man Escaped). In a career that spanned fifty years, Bresson made only 13 feature-length films. This reflects his meticulous approach to the filmmaking process and his non-commercial preoccupations. Difficulty finding funding for his projects was also a factor.


Bresson's early artistic focus was to separate the language of cinema from that of the theater, which often relies heavily upon the actor's performance to drive the work. With his 'actor-model' technique, Bresson's actors were required to repeat multiple takes of each scene until all semblances of 'performance' were stripped away, leaving a stark effect that registers as both subtle and raw. This, as well as Bresson's forgoing of musical scoring, would have a significant influence on minimalist cinema. In the academic journal CrossCurrents, Shmuel Ben-gad writes:[8]

"There is a credibility in Bresson's models: They are like people we meet in life, more or less opaque creatures who speak, move, and gesture [...] Acting, on the other hand, no matter how naturalistic, actively deforms or invents by putting an overlay or filter over the person, presenting a simplification of a human being and not allowing the camera to capture the actor's human depths. Thus what Bresson sees as the essence of filmic art, the achievement of the creative transformation involved in all art through the interplay of images of real things, is destroyed by the artifice of acting. For Bresson, then, acting is, like mood music and expressive camera work, just one more way of deforming reality or inventing that has to be avoided."

Film critic Roger Ebert wrote that Bresson's directorial style resulted in films "of great passion: Because the actors didn't act out the emotions, the audience could internalize them."[9]

Some feel that Bresson's Catholic upbringing and belief system lie behind the thematic structure of most of his films.[10] Recurring themes under this interpretation include salvation, redemption, defining and revealing the human soul, and metaphysical transcendence of a limiting and materialistic world. An example is A Man Escaped (1956), where a seemingly simple plot of a prisoner of war's escape can be read as a metaphor for the mysterious process of salvation.

Bresson's films can also be understood as critiques of French society and the wider world, with each revealing the director's sympathetic, if unsentimental, view of its victims. That the main characters of Bresson's most contemporary films, L'Argent and The Devil, Probably (1977), reach similarly unsettling conclusions about life indicates to some the director's feelings towards the culpability of modern society in the dissolution of individuals. Indeed, of an earlier protagonist he said, "Mouchette offers evidence of misery and cruelty. She is found everywhere: wars, concentration camps, tortures, assassinations."[11] In 1975, Bresson published Notes sur le cinématographe (also published in English translation as Notes on the Cinematographer), in which he argues for a unique sense of the term "cinematography." For Bresson, cinematography is the higher function of cinema. Whereas a movie is in essence "only" filmed theatre, cinematography is an attempt to create a new language of moving images and sounds.



Bresson is often referred to as a patron saint of cinema, not only for the strong Catholic themes found throughout his oeuvre, but also for his notable contributions to the art of film. His style can be detected through his use of sound, associating selected sounds with images or characters; paring dramatic form to its essentials by the spare use of music; and through his infamous 'actor-model' methods of directing his almost exclusively non-professional actors. He has influenced a number of other filmmakers, including Andrei Tarkovsky, Michael Haneke, Jim Jarmusch, the Dardenne brothers, Aki Kaurismäki, and Paul Schrader, whose book Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer includes a detailed critical analysis. Andrei Tarkovsky[12] held Bresson in very high regard, noting him and Ingmar Bergman as his two favourite filmmakers, stating "I am only interested in the views of two people: one is called Bresson and one called Bergman".[13] In his book, Sculpting in Time, Tarkovsky describes Bresson as "perhaps the only artist in cinema, who achieved the perfect fusion of the finished work with a concept theoretically formulated beforehand."[3]

Bresson's book Notes on the Cinematographer (1975) is one of the most respected books on film theory and criticism. His theories about film greatly influenced other filmmakers, such as the French New Wave directors.

French Cinema and French New Wave

Opposing the established pre-war French Cinema (Tradition de la Qualité) by offering his own personal responses to the question 'what is cinema?',[14] and by well-formulating his ascetic style, Bresson gained a high position among Founders of the French New Wave. He is often listed (along with Alexandre Astruc and André Bazin) as one of the main figures who theoretically influenced the French New Wave. New Wave pioneers often praised Bresson and posited him as a prototype for or precursor to the movement. However, Bresson was neither as overtly experimental nor as outwardly political as the New Wave filmmakers, and his religious views (Catholicism and Jansenism) would not have been attractive to most of the filmmakers associated with the movement.[14]

In his development for [2]


"My movie is born first in my head, dies on paper; is resuscitated by the living persons and real objects I use, which are killed on film but, placed in a certain order and projected on to a screen, come to life again like flowers in water."[16]

"The eye solicited alone makes the ear impatient, the ear solicited alone makes the eye impatient. Use these impatiences. Power of the cinematographer who appeals to the two senses in a governable way. Against the tactics of speed, of noise, set tactics of slowness, of silence."[17]

Awards and nominations

Robert Bresson was given the Career Golden Lion in 1989 by the Venice Film Festival


Feature films

Short films

  • Les affaires publiques (1934)
    • Public Affairs


By Robert Bresson

  • Notes sur le Cinématographe (1975) – translated as Notes on Cinematography and Notes on the Cinematographer in different English editions.

About Robert Bresson

  • Robert Bresson: A Passion for Film by Tony Pipolo (Oxford University Press; 407 pages; 2010) pays particular attention to psychosexual aspects of the French filmmaker's 13 features, from Les Anges du péché (1943) to L'Argent (1983).
  • La politique des auteurs, edited by André Bazin.
  • Robert Bresson (Cinematheque Ontario Monographs, No. 2), edited by James Quandt
  • Transcendental Style in Film: Bresson, Ozu, Dreyer by Paul Schrader
  • Robert Bresson: A Spiritual Style in Film, by Joseph Cunneen
  • Robert Bresson, by Philippe Arnauld, Cahiers du cinema, 1986
  • The Films of Robert Bresson, Ian Cameron (ed.), New York: Praeger Publishers, 1969.
  • Robert Bresson, by Keith Reader, Manchester University Press, 2000.
  • "Robert Bresson", a poem by Patti Smith from her 1978 book Babel
  • "Spiritual style in the films of Robert Bresson", a chapter in Susan Sontag's Against Interpretation and other essays, New York: Picador, 1966.
  • Robert Bresson (Revised), James Quandt (ed), Cinematheque Ontario Monographs, 2012 (752 pages) (ISBN 978-0-9682969-5-0)
  • Neither God Nor Master: Robert Bresson and Radical Politics by Brian Price (University of Minnesota Press, 2011, 264 pages).

See also


  1. ^ "Robert Bresson". Les Gens du Cinéma (in Français). 28 July 2004. Retrieved 19 February 2014.  This site uses Bresson's birth certificate as its source of information.
  2. ^ a b [7]
  3. ^ a b c [8]
  4. ^ [9]
  5. ^ Liukkonen, Petri. "Robert Bresson". Books and Writers ( Finland:  
  6. ^ Bert Cardullo (2009). The Films of Robert Bresson: A Casebook. Anthem Press. p. xiii.  
  7. ^ James Quandt, Cinémathèque Ontario (1998). Robert Bresson. Cinemathèque Ontario. p. 411.  
  8. ^ Ben-gad, Shmuel (1997). "To See the World Profoundly: The Films of Robert Bresson". CrossCurrents. Retrieved September 25, 2015. 
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 23, 1999). "Robert Bresson was master of understatement". Retrieved September 25, 2015. 
  10. ^ James Quandt, Robert Bresson (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1998), 9.
  11. ^ Dictionary of Films: ISBN 0-520-02152-5, page 228.
  12. ^ Le Cain, Maximillian. "Andrei Tarkovsky". 
  13. ^ [10]
  14. ^ a b [11]
  15. ^ [12]
  16. ^ Notes sur le cinématographe, Gallimard, Paris 2007, p. 25.
  17. ^ Bresson, Robert. "Notes on Sound." Translated by Jonathan Griffin. In Film Sound: Theory and Practice, edited by Elisabeth Weis and John Belton, 149. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985
  18. ^ " Awards for Pickpocket". Retrieved 17 January 2010. 
  19. ^ " Awards for Four Nights of a Dreamer". Retrieved 14 March 2010. 
  20. ^ "Berlinale 1977: Prize Winners". Retrieved 25 July 2010. 

External links


  • Robert Bresson at the Internet Movie Database
  • Resource dedicated to Bresson's films
  • A Bresson bibliography
  • Article about the cinema of Robert Bresson at the Wayback Machine (archived June 18, 2006)
  • Videos, Books, Notes ... (French)


  • Interview with Bresson (1970)
  • Interview footage with Bresson from French TV in 1960
  • : Interview with Crew-member Jonathan HouriganL'ArgentInside Bresson's , by Colin Burnett
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Fair are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.