Saturday, January 13, 2007

Robert Bresson, ascetic genius, sublimizing horndog

Very interesting interview with actress/author Anne Wiazemsky on the France Inter radio show "La Bande à Bonnaud," on the occasion of her new book, Jeune Fille. Wiazemsky's name will be familiar to cinephiles—she was in Godard's La Chinoise and Weekend, as well as in Pasolini's Teorema and Porcile. She's been writing novels for a while now, with some success, and her latest is a largely autobiographical one about the making of her first movie, Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar—yes, the allegory with the donkey—in 1966. Quite a way to start off a film career.

The interview is priceless about Bresson's working methods. Wiazemsky (who has a wonderful radio presence) speaks about working with him when she was 17-18. When they first met, she was totally into commercial cinema, reading about stars in pop magazines, and she wasn't familiar with his work. For her audition, Bresson made Wiazemsky read lines from his own first movie, the 1943 nun flick Les Anges du peché. Her grandfather, Catholic writer and Nobel Prize–winner François Mauriac, authorized her to work with Bresson, with the warning that the director was on the odd side.

The first thing Bresson did on the shoot was to order Wiazemsky to live in the same house—she had to go through his bedroom to reach hers, and they shared a bathroom. She could talk only to him, had to have all her meals with him; she was completely separated from the rest of the crew (which nicknamed her "the little captive"). But Wiazemsky also recalls that the captive was complicit, and that she enjoyed submitting to the older man's authority and knowledge. She is really insightful about the love Bresson had for his actresses, including her, a love he sublimated in his movies. Funnier are anecdotes about Bresson going nuts about the donkey, which he apparently tried to direct exactly like the human actors. Walter Green, Wiazemsky's costar, was so shaken by the experience that he gave up acting and became a dentist; he also went on to marry 1970s star Marlène Jobert and sire…Eva Green.

The year after the movie came out, Wiazemsky married Godard. (How's that for a transition?) When Bresson learned about it, he called her and told he she was nuts to marry Godard, who was too old for her; Godard got furious that a director he admired so much would meddle in his private life. The show then played a clip of Godard calling Bresson both a great inquisitor and a humanist, adding that people who go to the movies once a year should make that movie one by Bresson, since a Bresson movie is the world.

1 comment:

magneticat said...

Very interesting !