• Divinely Human: Robert Bresson's Spiritual Reflections

    Sérgio Dias Branco (see profile)
    Film Studies, Religious Studies, Theology
    Item Type:
    Conference paper
    Conf. Title:
    The Place of Religion in Film
    Conf. Org.:
    Syracuse University
    Conf. Loc.:
    Syracuse, USA
    Conf. Date:
    31 March 2017
    Film studies
    Permanent URL:
    This talk reads Robert Bresson’s Notes on the Cinematographer, not as a mere collection of thoughts, but as spiritual reflections. These brief meditations record aspects of his film practice in condensed form and reveal the connection between contemplation and action. The contemplative tone of the book becomes perceptible through the careful observation that originates each note. The goal seems to be to set parameters for transformation — so that art changes without losing sight of its core, so that this change makes sense and explores the possibilities of the cinematographic medium. More precisely, the spiritual nature of these reflections is twofold. On the one hand, Bresson speaks explicitly about the soul in several passages, in an attempt not to succumb to the superficial powers of photography. For him, cinematography, or photography in motion, has the ability to capture life, the soul of living things, and not just their appearance. On the other hand, there is a religious background to his remarks that, although well known, is only made explicit once when the author mentions a Greek-Catholic liturgy saying: “Be attentive!” The exact phrase is “Let us be attentive!” and it is even more fitting for Bresson’s notes since they are written simultaneously from the point of view of the artist and of the viewer. Both need to pay attention, to be vigilant about what may be or already is projected on the screen. These two aspects, the vibration of the soul and the importance of attention, can be further discussed by focusing on a concept that Bresson develops: that of model (a “divinely man” or a “divinely woman” as he writes), which replaces the notion of actor. The last moments of Mouchette (1967) allow us to explore questions around the model in detail — the way that they relate to viewer presumptions about Christian perspectives on suicide and death as well as to the place of ritual in significant instants of life.
    Last Updated:
    3 years ago


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