Robert Bresson


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Robert Bresson (French: [ʁɔbɛʁ bʁɛsɔ̃]; 25 September 1901 – 18 December 1999) was a French film director. Known for his ascetic approach, Bresson contributed notably to the art of cinema; his non-professional actors, ellipses, and sparse use of scoring have led his works to be regarded as preeminent examples of minimalist film. Much of his work is known for being tragic in story and nature.

Bresson is among the most highly regarded filmmakers of all time. He has the highest number of films (seven) that made the 2012 Sight & Sound critics' poll of the 250 greatest films ever made. His works A Man Escaped (1956), Pickpocket (1959), and Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) were ranked among the top 100, and other films like Mouchette (1967) and L'Argent (1983) also received many votes. Jean-Luc Godard once wrote, "He is the French cinema, as Dostoevsky is the Russian novel and Mozart is German music."

Bresson was born at Bromont-Lamothe, Puy-de-Dôme, the son of Marie-Élisabeth (née Clausels) and Léon Bresson. Little is known of his early life. He was educated at Lycée Lakanal in Sceaux, Hauts-de-Seine, close to Paris, and turned to paint after graduating. Three formative influences in his early life seem to have marked his films: Catholicism, art, and his experiences as a prisoner of war. 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 painstaking approach to the filmmaking process and his non-commercial preoccupations. Difficulty finding funding for his projects was also a factor.

Although many writers claim that Bresson described himself as a "Christian atheist," no source ever confirmed this assertion. Neither are the circumstances clear under which Bresson would have said it. On the contrary, in an interview in 1973, he said, There is the feeling that God is everywhere, and the more I live, the more I see that in nature, in the country. When I see a tree, I see that God exists. I try to catch and convey the idea that we have a soul and that the soul is in contact with God. That's the first thing I want to get in my films.

Furthermore, in a 1983 interview for TSR's Spécial Cinéma, Bresson declared that he had been interested in making a film based on the Book of Genesis. However, he believed such a production would be too costly and time-consuming. 

Bresson was sometimes accused of an "ivory tower existence." Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, an admirer of Bresson's work, argued that the filmmaker was "a mysterious, aloof figure" and wrote that on the set of Four Nights of a Dreamer (1971), the director "seemed more isolated from his crew than any other filmmaker I've seen at work; his widow and onetime assistant director, Mylene van der Mersch, often conveyed his instructions."

Bresson died on a Saturday in December 1999 at his home in Droue-sur-Drouette, southwest of Paris. He was 98. He made his last film, L'Argent, in 1983 and had been unwell for some time.

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