Filmmaking Wisdom from Robert Bresson
We are still coming to terms with Robert Bresson, and the peculiar power and beauty of his films, says Martin Scorsese who considers Bresson to be one of the cinema’s greatest artists. Another monumental filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky, agrees with Bresson’s importance: Robert Bresson is for me an example of a real and genuine filmmaker. He obeys only certain higher, objective laws of Art…Bresson is the only person who remained himself and survived all the pressures brought by fame. Meanwhile, Jean-Luc Godard, who along with his colleagues of The French New Wave was influenced by Bresson, claims, Robert Bresson is French cinema, as Dostoevsky is the Russian novel and Mozart is the German music.
Robert Bresson exemplifies the filmmaker of a simplicity that yields an elegance that then spellbindingly eclipses the traditional codes of film and its unique language: bringing each cinematic element to its essence allows Bresson to show beyond doubt that filmmaking is an art. All of this centers on the power of the filmmaker’s style. Bresson states, Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen. Filmmakers, follow your unique styles and spark your filmmaking passion with Filmmaking Wisdom from Robert Bresson, an extended and modified list of tips of cinematic goodness presented by A-BitterSweet-Life, and follow it with a viewing of The Road to Bresson, an essential one hour documentary on the master filmmaker. (note: Filmmaking Wisdom from… usually contains 5 filmmaking tips that are then touched upon. For this edition, the 5 tips have expanded to 7 and only the title of each touches on the insight. Why? Bresson’s own words suffice.)
1) Necessity and a Precise Individual Creative Vision Lead to the All-Important Filmmaker’s Style and an Engaging Form of Cinematic Storytelling
“Cinema is the art of showing nothing.” I want to express things with a minimum of means, showing nothing that is not absolutely essential…My style is natural to me. You see, I want to make things so concentrated and so unified that the spectator feels as if he has seen one single moment. I control all speech and gesture so as to produce an object that is indivisible. Because I believe that one moves an audience only through rhythm, concentration, and unity.
2) Envision the Creative Filmmaking Process as a Cycle: Personal Vision Seeks the Emotions of the Audience to Reshape into a Film That Is a Unique yet Universally Emotional Experience
It is the inside that commands. I know that it may seem paradoxical in an art that is all about the outside…Only the conflicts that take place inside the characters give its movement to the film, its real movement…A film is the typical kind of creation that claims a style. It needs an author, a writing…What the director has in sight, is an effect to produce or a series of effects. If he is conscientious, his preliminary work will consist precisely of going back from the effect to the cause. Starting from what he wants to obtain, the emotion of the audience, he looks for the best combinations to create that emotion. It’s a path walked backwards, with choices and rejections, mistakes, interpolations, that fatally leads him to the origin of composition, that is to say the very composition.
3) A Filmmaker Must Ask, “What Do I Want to See, What Is It That Moves Me?” and by Becoming Both Spectator and Creator, One Is Able to Achieve a Film That “Affects”–to Move the Audience Emotionally, Understand What Moves You
Le public, c’est moi. I mean that if I try to represent to myself what the audience will feel, I can not help but to say to myself: The audience, it is I. So, one does not work for an audience. But what one tries to do should be able all the same…For we find, ultimately, the same chances of acceptance by the audience as a painter, for example, but after some time. Thus the other day someone asked me the question, “Do you believe that a single film of yours could affect people?” It can, perhaps, affect some people, but I do not believe that a single painting by Cézanne has made people understand or love Cézanne, has made them feel as Cézanne did. It takes a great many paintings!
4) A Film Ought to Reflect the Style of a Filmmaker without Imposing upon the Audience’s Experience of the Film: The Filmmaker Creates More than a Film, He or She Creates a Relationship between the Spectator and the Film
You must leave the spectator free. And at the same time you must make yourself loved by him. You must make him love the way in which you render things. That is to say: show him things in the order and the way that you love to see them and to feel them; make him feel them, in presenting them to him, as you see them and feel them yourself, and this while leaving him a great freedom, while making him free.
5) The Relationship between Spectator and Film Brings Forth the Cinematic Experience: The Filmmaker Should Allow the Viewer’s Imagination and Emotions Take Part in the Film’s Storytelling–Discovering the Story Is More Powerful than Simply Receiving It
The difficulty is that all art is both abstract and suggestive at the same time. You can’t show everything. If you do, it’s no longer art. Art lies in suggestion. The great difficulty for filmmakers is precisely not to show things. Ideally, nothing should be shown, but that’s impossible. So things must be shown from one sole angle that evokes all other angles without showing them. We must let the viewer gradually imagine, hope to imagine, and keep them in a constant state of anticipation…We must let the mystery remain. Life is mysterious, and we should see that on-screen.
6) All Filmmaking Choices Center on What Is Necessary for the Film and Its Engagement with the Audience: It Is the Film That Shines on the Screen, It Is the Experience of the Film That Is Felt–with Time, the Filmmaker May Become Memorable
To me cinema is the art of having each thing in its place. In this it resembles all the other arts. Like the anecdote about Johann Sebastian Bach playing for a student, the student gushes with admiration, but Bach says, “There’s nothing to admire. You just have to hit the note at the right time, and the organ does the rest.”
7) Filmmaking Is in of Itself a Life’s Journey: Cherish the Opportunity, Immerse Yourself in Each Stage, and Embrace the Poetry Behind the Making of a Film
My film is born first in my head, dies on paper; is resuscitated by the living persons and real objects I use, which are killed on film but, placed in a certain order and projected on a screen, come to life again like flowers in water.