Farber on Bresson - 2

Manny Farber

Source for the picture: Reverse shot

 

On Une Femme Douce

What is good about Bresson’s Une Femme Douce is the mulishness: the direct, resolute, obsessional artist always driving after the idea of exalted suspension and ascetic rigor in small, quiet phenomena. The movie works despite the spooky queerness of its three inhabited, sleepwalking actors and the silly verbatim use of Dostoevsky’s lines, which are rescued from total silliness in the film by a blatant throwaway quality. Bresson, trying for a kind of Cubistic misalliance, doesn’t care if the lines are understood or whether they fit in with image. As storytelling, the movie is a brain-twister in which few sentences connect to the image they accompany. A young bride jumps up and down on her new bed, and her husband, the ultimate in prissiness and mundaneness, says, “I threw cold water on her ecstasy.” Also: “I knew she had behaved honorably, there was no question about it.” This blank, icy man has just seen his wife passionately necking in roadster.

Through movies about hand-task-oriented social outcasts – a poacher setting his traps, an imprisoned man weaving ropes and making hooks for his escape, an apprentice pickpocket learning the trade - Bresson’s vocabulary has been honed over the theme of humility as notability. He likes a face to be as free from reflection as an animal’s: his sensitive-faced outsiders do what they do without the face making any comment on the action. Before speaking, eyes methodically drop in nervous, hopeless abjectness. People turn away from the camera, assume prayerful or meditated poses, pass one another as though on a private procession.

On one level, the film is a geometric ballet of doors opening and closing, people exiting and entering, husband or wife turning down the bed covers, of objects or people moving into and out of the stationary camera, a young wife’s dazzlingly white fresh face against the sharp, crotchety profile of her black-haired husband, TV sets turned on an off, bathtubs filled and emptied. Despite the stylized repetitions of gesture, the rigidly held camera angle at stomach height, the uninflected voices speaking desperate, passionate lines, Une Femme Douce is an eerie crystalline work, a serious affirmation within a story of suicide.

 

Source: Negative Space: Manny Farber On The Movies; New York Film Festival 1969; p. 241-245.

 

Une Femme Douce

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