Kehr Capsule of the Week: L’Argent (1983)

Robert Bresson‘s 14th film in 40 years, made in 1983. It returns to some of the themes of his earlier work—the notion of stolen grace from Pickpocket, the suppression of scenes in favor of a continuous flow of action from A Man Escaped—but there is also a new passion and electricity in Bresson’s minimalist images; it nowhere feels like the work of an 80-year-old man. Among the violent events are a bank robbery, a car chase, a prison insurrection, and a series of brutal murders; the world is ready to explode into chaos, but Bresson retains his contemplative distance, searching for the sense in which this “avalanche of evil” can lead to the ultimate spiritual victory of his protagonist. Bresson, working his sound track as assiduously as his visuals, once again makes us realize how little use most films make of the resources of the cinema. A masterpiece.

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Kehr Capsule of the Week: The Driver (1978)

An audacious, skillful film noir (1978) by Walter Hill, so highly stylized that it’s guaranteed to alienate 90 percent of its audience. There’s no realism, no psychology, and very little plot in Hill’s story of a deadly game between a professional getaway driver (Ryan O’Neal) and a detective obsessed with catching him (Bruce Dern). There is, however, a great deal of technically sophisticated and very imaginative filmmaking. The cross-references here are Howard Hawks, Robert Bresson, and Jean-Pierre Melville: a strange, heady, and quite effective range of influences. With Isabelle Adjani, Ronee Blakley, and Matt Clark. 90 min.

Kehr Capsule of the Week: Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (1945)

Robert Bresson‘s ravishing second feature (1945) relocates a self-contained anecdote from Diderot‘s 18th-century Jacques le Fataliste in a modern setting, with dialogue by Cocteau, about a jealous woman (Maria Casares), ditched by her lover (Paul Bernard), who takes her revenge by tricking the man into marrying a prostitute (Elina Labourdette). Like much (if not all) of Bresson’s best work, it can’t be assimilated to realist criteria, but it’s unforgettable for its fire-and-ice evocations of tragedy in an unlikely setting. It’s the last time that Bresson worked with professional actors, but his procedure of paring away the drama to its essentials is already fully in place; his visual style is more obviously striking here—slicker and more dramatically lit, with high-contrast photography and prowling camera movements—than it was to become later. In French with subtitles.

Kehr Capsule of the Week: Raging Bull (1980)

I can’t pan it, but this 1980 fantasy biography of fighter Jake LaMotta seems unquestionably Martin Scorsese’s weakest work, at least to that point in his career. The central conceit—that no matter how monstrous LaMotta is to his friends, family, and self, he is still close to God and will receive his grace—is debased Bresson filtered through screenwriter Paul Schrader, and it has little or no dramatic impact. As LaMotta, Robert De Niro gives a blank, soulless performance; there’s so little of depth or urgency coming from him that he’s impossible to despise, or forgive, in any but the most superficial way. The film is told parable style, with separate episodes of moral testing—a design that tends toward the simple, the monotonous, the redundant. Well worth seeing as is any work of this breakthrough stylist, but expectations should be adjusted. With Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci, and Nicholas Colasanto.