Stylistically, it kind of reminds me of A Gentlewomanójust the same kind of setting, storefronts, cash registers, etc. But thatís just a superficial observation I guess. Any Bresson film is going to look like another Bresson film, especially one made around the same time. This film exemplifies the power and perhaps (gasp) even limitations of the Bresson style.
By all rights (read: if you watch the film haphazardly without paying close attention), we really shouldnít give a shit about the people in it or what happens. But by the sheer power of the Bresson style, we are compelled, captivated, following the camera and suspense of. The Bresson-fan has no choice. Kent Jones provides a superb audio commentary for this film and says something about Bressonís ability to [show the world in its minute detailóand beauty]. Bertrand Tavernier does this very well too. And of course Tarkovsky also gives great aural and visual detail, although in a very different way. By showing bits and fragments rather than wholes (a close-up of a body part rather than a long shot, or showing the before and after a critical action rather than the action itself) Bresson lets one utilize oneís own imagination more fully than with conventional filmmaking.
Of course, on paper the plot is great. The story is a wonderful and coherent and meaningfulóitís Tolstoy. The idea (as Kent Jones says) of [young people being formed by the behavior of the older generation] is a resonant one. Andrei Rublev by Tarkovsky also raises this issue, particularly in the climactic bell-making scene. But on cinematographic (gut-response) terms (and if the Bresson fan is able to temporarily unmesmerize oneself), then the final final outcome may in fact lead one to question whether Bressonís own style actually works against the film (against his goals which would presumably be to tell a convincing story).
Does Bressonís style make the protagonistís shift from honest man to murderer more or less convincing? I see how it happens in terms of plotófrom being falsely accused, falling into crime, being incarcerated, losing his family, and so on. But for this character to then acquire a need for revenge, which then causes him to commit brutal murder just does not compute to me on a gut level. Here, I actually think the Bresson style may hurt as much as it helps. The automaton protagonist seems to convey the same emotional state throughout the film. It just doesnít seem to change. He looks the same. He moves the same. He is the same. The policeman, at one point, comments that itís often the ones who havenít committed any violent crimes who are to be just as feared as the worst. But this statement seems a bit meaningless when you think about it. And yes, there is the moment when ďwhatís his nameĒ acts in rage in the dining hall in the prison, grabbing the ladle and raising it as if to strike out in pure rage. The plot does lead step by step from beginning to end. His tragic flaw is his temper (see Ozuís Floating Weeds, or Raging Bull) But still. I am simply wondering out loud if the Bresson style helps or hurts the overall truthiness of the film.
The Tragic Flaw
The guy is defeated by events, but the narrative relies on his tragic flaw of pride (and its attendant quick temper). 1) he pushes the waiter who accused him of passing counterfeit notes 2) when he refuses to explain to his people and thus loses his job 3) he loses his cool in prison when he raises the ladle. In fact, some form of tragic flaw appears throughout Bressonís films. The more sympathetic protagonist in Pickpocket and his inability to stop himself stealing, the confused determination of Lancelot in Lancelot of the Lake, the obsessive need to control another in A Gentlewoman, to name a few. I think stories which adhere to the tragic flaw method are powerful. Is this because this is close to real lifeóto how it really is with people? Or what?