Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Seattle Screens

Seattle Screens: The Devil and The Story of Film, Probably

The Devil, Probably

The Devil, Probably, the penultimate film by Robert Bresson (and of his most rarely screened), is at Northwest Film Forum for a full week in a new 35mm print. The final film in their “Celluloid Dream” series is in fact the rarest and the most difficult of the offerings. The then-seventy-year-old director cast his lens on modern French youth, capturing their cynicism with a hard compassion. There’s nothing on Seattle screens like it this week.

The Story of Film: An Odyssey, the entire 15-hour epic documentary by Mark Cousins, plays over the weekend spread across three days at SIFF Film Center: five programs of three chapters each beginning Friday, August 17 at 7pm and ending Sunday night. If that’s too daunting a commitment, it will be back in the form of weekly screenings, with three chapters (three hours) a night over the course of five Thursday evenings, beginning September 13. You can by tickets individually or passes. Complete schedule and ticket information here.

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Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Essays

The Soul of Cinema: Robert Bresson

Northwest Film Forum is screening six Robert Bresson films, Tuesdays through Thursdays over the next two weeks (May 1-May 10), so we’re reprinting this essay written for the 1999 Bresson retrospective.

[Originally published in slightly different form in The Seattle Weekly, March 24, 1999]

It’s a cliché, but it bears repeating: Robert Bresson is an original. Over fifty years since his first feature, Les Anges du Peche (1943) made during the German occupation of France, Bresson recreated the very nature of cinema for himself in his own small way. In a mere thirteen features in his forty year career he carved out one of the most unique bodies of work in world cinema, a set of films both somber and celebratory in their search for grace. He had long retired from directing when he died in 1999 at 98 years of age, having spent the previous fifteen years attending concerts and perhaps still painting. He refused to speak about his work and had stopped granting interviews for some time, but his legacy of cinema speaks volumes.

To the uninitiated Bresson can seem maddeningly indifferent—his films eschew the kind of dramatic spikes and psychological grounding of his contemporaries (the psychological intensity of Bergman seems downright flamboyant next to Bresson’s minimalist approach)—and even many cineastes are left cold by Bresson’s remove. Insisting that cinema is properly not the marriage of photography and theater, but of music and painting, Bresson dismisses the tradition of film acting as “filmed theater.” He systematically strips affectation and method from his performers by relentlessly drilling them in rehearsals until they master the mechanical, uninflected motions and line deliveries. They aren’t actors but “models,” taking a term from painting to describe their function in his filmmaking practice.

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