My Gleanings

Friday, January 12, 2007

Anne Wiazemsky : le mystère Bresson

This is my translation of a review of Anne Wiazemsky's new book Jeune Fille, about her relationship with Robert Bresson during the filming of Au Hasard Balthasar, which appeared in Le Monde on January 11.

Link for the article from Jan 11 issue of Le Monde.

In May 1950, the film critic Jean Douchet went to observe Robert Bresson on the set of Diary of a Country Priest. He made this note, “ (Bresson) works on the actor (Claude Laydu) like a sculptor on clay.” In order to write Jeune Fille [Young Girl] the novel in which she recounts “her ” Bresson of the era of Au Hasard Balthasar, Anne Wiazemsky met Jany Holt and Renée Faure, two of the splendid performers in Les Anges du péché (1943). “He had a way of overpowering you that was very good. You no longer belonged to yourself”, the former remembered. Forty years after her first cinematic experience, like a passing hunch she considers the question which she must answer in her book, “Was he in love with me?”
Jeune Fille is a book deeply moving for its sensitivity, intelligence and simplicity. the intrtwined portraits of a young lady of seventeent years whom is discovered to be the grand-daughter of François Mauriac and the sixty-four year old filmmaker who has already directed Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne, Un Condamné à Mort s'est Echappé, Pickpocket and Le Procès de Jeanne d'Arc. A story of love and of passion, close even to the essence of cinema and creation.
“He’s is going to love you,” Florence (Florence Carrez alias Florence Delay, the actress in Jeanne d’Arc) told Anne, after a first meeting in Breeson’s apartment on île Saint-Louis, in Paris. This was in the spring of 1965. In her notebook, Anne copied this lines excerpted from one of grand-father’s novels, “Happiness is being surrounded by a thousand desires, hearing around yourself the branches crackling”. This was imprecise, new, unsettling like all that was going to follow.
Right off, the time of a reading of extracts of dialogue from Les Anges des Péché by Giradoux. Bresson brought to her the key to the work which awaited her in the role of Marie. “Try to only read the text. Without any ideas. . . Without thinking about it. . . “ Then, an extraordinary project of preparation and appropriation of the future actress began. To the limits of desire, not far, sometimes from true sadism. “It was enough to listen to him and to do what he asked of me without trying to understand, I had to give myself over to him, accept abandoning myself. For reasons that I will never comment on, which suit me perfectly. Even better, I experienced a a lot of pleasure obeying him. I would understand often, afterwards, that this was demanding, indeed appalling, exercise and that many had suffered from it. That was never my case.
However, during the shooting, when he, on a undisclosed request, had an actor strike her violently or even, on many occasions, he wanted to kiss her on the mouth, Anne came to feel, however fleetingly, feelings of repulsion towards this filmmaker so possessive and jealous. She even happened to take, in hiding from Bresson, a lover - her first - in order to escape his control. Ghislain Cloquet, the director of photography, of whom Anne sketches a touching portrait of an attentive and benevolent polar bear, said of Bresson, “He was immense as a filmmaker, But i would never confide my daughter to him, never!” Very quickly, this account addresses the basic questions of creation. “So, just like that, you want to make movies. . .” her grand-father said to her after having read this spectacular scenario, totally built on the story of a donkey and of a young woman. “Pride, cruelty, stupity, sensuality, humiliation and violence are present throughout. it is always the bad which carries the day! It is almost a godless world. you are not fearful to incarnate a young person as roughly handled by life?’ he asked her. This a serious responsibility that you go on, on this unknown road. There will be consequences and I am not aware which ones. . . Inevitably. . .Once the door to the cage opens, the bird flies away. . .But where?” Ten years before, in Le Figaro, 1952’s Nobel Prize winner for literature had written, regarding Diary of a Country Priest, “I see on the screen the face of a young man named Claude Laydu but whom the director Robert Bresson has kneaded and re-kneaded until has become someone else entirely while remaiming himself. Now here is the mystery: thanks to this process, thanks to this method, the sould really comes to the surface, it appears, we see it, we could touch it. . .” On thinks of Carl Dreyer who said, “What I am looking for in my films, what I wish to obtain is to penetrate to the deepest thoughts of my actors, through their most subtle expressions. For it is these expressions which lay bare the nature of the characters, their unconscios feelings, the secrets whixh repose in the depth of the souls.”
During the shooting, Anne Wiazemsky discovered the multiple facets of love. “I became aware of the haapiness of life can be, or more exactly, the happiness of feeling alive.” and then there was the chance of a lifetime, the arrival on the set of Jean-Luc Godard, who wanted to realize, for Cahiers du Cinema, an interview with Robert Bresson: “So, my dear Jean-Luc, you are on the eve of beginning a new film? (. . .) What’s it called? No, no, no, see if I can remember. . . Pierrot le Fou?” Later, Anne will learn that Godard came because he had fallen in love with a photo of her which appeared in Le Figaro and that the meeting with Bresson was only a pretext. “But that’s another story. . .” she writes, enigmatically.
Bresson, godard, another story indeed. In 1967, Anne will see Pierrot le Fou and Masculin Féminin and have the impression that these films are love letters meant for her. She will send a letter to Godard and will become his “Chinoise" . . . On finishing filming Au Hasard Balthasar, Bresson will, however, ask her, in exchange for the role of Guinivere in Lancelot du Lac to never film with anyone other than him.
“I have been happy with you”, Anne told him.
“Me, too. Living near you has given me a great deal. . . your youth has made me young. . . Often I was your age. . . You will understand later on . . . later”
And, thus it is later Anne Wiazemsky will write her best book. A pure wonder.

from Le Monde January 11, 2007

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