Minimalist French Writer/Director Robert Bresson created Les Anges Du Peche following a year in Nazi captivity during World War II. Knowing this bit of information helps us possibly understand why he made this film. Two women meet at a convent, one becomes a novice and the other is serving out her remaining sentence for a crime she did not commit. The novice Anne-Marie, played by Renee Faure, is inexplicably drawn to the convicted thief Therese, played by Jany Holt. Therese unexpectedly becomes a catalyst for Anne-Marie's growing rebellion as a novice, eventually resulting in a change in both women. The performances by both actresses are excellent, and Bresson fashions an incredibly interesting philosophical story about various themes both religious and secular in nature.
Surely, one of Bresson's explored themes is captivity here, as he had just experienced the brutality of Nazi wardens during the war. In the film, Bresson examines various elements of captivity: captivity of body, captivity of soul, one's moral superiority holding one's self captive, one's anger and frustration holding one's self mentally captive, and being captivated by others who influence our actions. Before the fadeout, forgiveness, humility, pride, redemption, and sacrifice are given the once over as well. Bresson seems to indicate we can not separate our spirituality from our humanity. The inner and outer worlds exist side by side and one influences the other and vice versa. Hence, the irony of the film's title.
Bresson garnered a reputation for being a minimalist director; in that, he only focuses on what's necessary to tell his story. There is no unnecessary subplot or extraneous footage shot. He frames scenes focusing on lone characters in the center or in two shots of two actresses without fancy cutting or editing. Bresson utilizes sound with Therese's screams, the grinding wheels of the meal cart, and the escape alarm to emphasize her captivity in the convent, and his depiction of her trying to escape where there is no room for it, huddled in the corner of the frame before being led back to her cell, mirrors our own existential dilemma in life. The entire film uses the convent as its setting (with a few very brief exceptions), demonstrating even the director is held captive by his subject matter. The film builds a little slowly and then grows on the viewer as it develops further. It's a very interesting philosophical exercise. *** of 4 stars.
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