25 August 2007 | dbdumonteil
Robert Bresson's least satisfying film, probably
"What prompted me to shoot this film is the waste we have made of everything. It's this mass civilization in which the human being won't exist any more. This mad restlessness. This huge demolition undertaking where we will die where we thought we lived. It's also the astounding indifference from people in general except some young ones who are more lucid".
This is what Robert Bresson declared when his film was released thirty years ago and he surely had good reasons to defend his deeply pessimistic view about the future of the world. It's 1977 and the "thirty-year boom period after World War II" is just over. This golden age of economic, social growth improved many people's lives but also led to grave results like pollution or the nearly extinction of several animal species. Although "le Diable Probablement" was released thirty years ago, the main issues it broaches are still topical ones in 2007 especially with global warming. Could Bresson be a visionary?
Different characters in Bresson's work experienced a cruel, ruthless world, either it is a priest (Journal d'UN Curé De Campagne, 1951), a donkey (Au Hasard Balthazar, 1966) or a little girl (Mouchette, 1967). Here, he puts his camera amid a bunch of teenagers in their twenties something who are horrified with man did to the planet. The strongest points of the work take place during the slide shows when they comment on a neutral voice the damage man caused to the environment. These pictures pack a real wallop and it's impossible not to remain indifferent in front of them. They efficiently serve Bresson's purpose.
But why "le Diable Probabalement" is ultimately underwhelming in Bresson's filmography? These scary pictures are well here to bear witness of the "huge demolition" in which we're trapped but the filmmaker doesn't introduce the causes. They are absent, either they're of social or economical source. That's why we are little convinced and indifferent once these images aren't on the screen any more. And what doesn't help matters is that when the camera lingers on Charles and his friends' everyday life or significant events, these issues of pollution, famine, waste of natural resources seem so far from the filmmaker's main lines that our interest progressively wanes. And the thought that this bunch of teenagers doesn't seem to directly live in this horrible world often springs to mind, except maybe once when Charles and Albert go in a forest and not to see and hear the sound of the trees falling down, the former puts his fingers in his ears.
So, Bresson's film is the victim of a large gap between its purpose and its manner to reach it. It should have gained intensity by being more tightened. Of course, it's a "Bressonian" work to the core with an austere, straightforward directing, "models" who recite their texts and the confrontation of subjective minds with an objective, cruel world but "le Diable Probablement" isn't Bresson's most adequate film to see these features blended to create a big harmonious work. On virtually the same topic, the documentary "an Inconvenient Truth" (2006) is more effectively creepy.
In the sequence when Charles is to the analyst's, at one moment he bends over the shrink's desk and can see a drawer full of checks and notes. This detail could be an indication about the next direction taken by Bresson for his next film: "l'Argent" (1983).