Monday, 2 June 2008

Robert Bresson's Lancelot du Lac on DVD

In the Ten Bad Dates contributors listing I cite this as my favourite movie, for whatever that's worth. I've put up with a dodgy second-hand VHS of it for ten years now, but last week I discovered it's new to DVD. So that's good. I wrote the following for a festival program in 1999:
'Among the elite group of acknowledged cinematic masters, Robert Bresson is the most mysterious, the most forbidding, the most intensely revered. On the strength of these slightly thankless distinctions, he was also reckoned to be box-office poison. But understand that Bresson was neither hostile to or aloof from the movie-going public. Au contraire: no director could have respected an audience more, been more desirous of their attention and appreciation. “You must leave the spectator free”, Bresson fretted during a Cahiers du Cinema symposium with Godard. “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 in the way that you love to see them and to feel them…” From this you get a savour of the great man’s seriousness, and the depth of his passion. Of course, if each man’s love were the same as the next, we’d all get into a terrible punch-up. As it is, Bresson’s inimitable way of seeing can still divide a crowd. Five or so years ago, I took an American friend to the re-release of Bresson’s Lancelot du Lac at London’s Everyman. We were fellow film students, accustomed to casting a self-consciously cool eye over each other’s favourites. On my home turf, so to speak, I was a little anxious, not having looked at Lancelot in years. Yet within minutes of projection, I was bobbing happily on the edge of my seat. After all, who but Bresson had the nerve to make films like this? Towards the close, as Lancelot tersely rallied his comrades for their doomed last stand (“Pour Artus contre Mordred!”), I wondered why this moment couldn’t inspire the same misty cinephile reverence as Warren Oates’ analogous “Why not?” in The Wild Bunch. Nevertheless, en route to the pub, my buddy was wryly sceptical of what he’d just seen: ‘Man. All those shots of feet…’'

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