Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bresson on faith

Fascinating email from my cine-pal Doug Cummings about filmmaker Robert Bresson, whose MOUCHETTE was recently released by Criterion. (I've written for Christianity Today about Bresson's masterful AU HASARD BALTHAZAR and A MAN ESCAPED.

Doug writes: ""Paul Schrader interviewed Bresson for Film Comment just prior to shooting LE DIABLE PROBABLEMENT. Bresson had to shut down the filming of LDP midway through due tolack of funds (he was later able to resume) and he later asked Schrader not to publish the interview, but after the film was released, he consented. I thought this passage was particularly interesting... I admire Bresson's willingness to wrestle with his faith and embrace his struggles. It's passages like this that cause some contemporary critics to claim Bresson was agnostic, but I think that betrays much of the tone here. But like his film, this is about as pessimistic as Bresson gets.


BRESSON: ...If I would one day feel that all that is interesting in
life is finished and I can't work any more, I'm not sure what I would
do. But it has nothing to do with my new film. I am not twenty-two
years old. You know there are more suicides among young people; they
said this in the paper the other day. In France--I don't know
why--when they are young, about twenty or twenty-two, they are much
more fragile, sensitive. They have nothing to live on, especially
religion. The collapse of the Catholic religion, this reason and
others, can work very strongly on the mind of a young person.

The young man in my film is looking for something on top of life, but
he doesn't find it. He goes to church to seek it, and he doesn't find
it. At night he goes to Notre Dame, to find God, alone. He says lines
like this, "When you come in a church, or in a cathedral, God is
there"--it is the line of his death--"but if a priest happens to
come. God is not there anymore." This is why, although I am very
religious--was very religious, more or less--I can't go to church in
the last four or five years when these people are making their new
mass. It is not possible. I go inside the cathedral and sit down.
There I feel God, the presence of something divine which doesn't
exist anymore in the mass. The young man cannot feel God's presence
in the daytime with people moving about and the priests there. He
goes to find something which he could rely on, but something happens.
The police come. I am sure there are young people who commit suicide
because they can't find this anymore.

SCHRADER: What will happen to you when you die?

BRESSON: (Laughter.) You know, I can't take my mind off the fact that
I believe you still feel things. You feel the loneliness, you feel
the darkness of your coffin, you feel the cold. Resurrection is a
most difficult thing to believe. The resurrection of the body: what
is it? I don't know. But you know, I feel that I feel it. I have this
certitude that there is something different than earth where we live
which you can't imagine, but you can imagine that you could imagine.
Sometimes I have had in my life, not now, something like a presence.
Of what, I don't know, but I have felt it. It was very short, but I
was very much impressed by it. It is something that I cannot explain.
I go very often to the country on weekends where I feel the trees,
the plants. I can't understand people who say there is no God. What
does it mean? That everything is natural for them?

SCHRADER: If you feel even for one moment that there is a presence of
something else, then it is hard to believe that when you die, you
will be completely lost.

BRESSON: Yes, except that one day you believe in the middle of the
day and at night, you don't. You know what I mean, one day you
believe and one day you don't. Faith is a shock. It is something you
get; you don't know how. But belief is something else. Your
intelligence tells you to do something. I think I am in the middle,
between faith and believing. In my film, when the woman is going to
die, I want it to appear there is something else after death. That's
why when people become so materialistic, religion is not possible,
because every religion is poverty and poverty is the way of having
contact with mystery and with God. When Catholicism wants to be
materialistic, God is not there.

SCHRADER: A good minister will say the same thing you say in 'Notes,'
which is: I am only a way to the mystery. Therefore, my personality
and the personality of the actors are not important; it is only
important that I enable you to see what there is. But then, most
ministers are like actors. They are very bad and they are interested
only in themselves.

BRESSON: I don't know what they are trying to do now, the
Protestants. They are trying to explain what is not explainable. That
is why many young people try to find something idealistic in
Tao--because they need something to live.

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