Wednesday, October 25, 2017


This is a summarized version of a talk I participated in on Robert Bresson's Four Nights Of A Dreamer at Video Revival in Brooklyn.


The motivation of Robert Bresson's characters seem predetermined. It's as if they're essentially going through the motions without any say or input on their own lives or actions. Bresson is kind of like a cinematic puppet master in a sense. While it's totally understandable that this would be off-putting & unappealing to some folks (Robert Bresson does have his share of detractors) it is intriguing to me and quite a few of the filmmakers he has directly inspired (Four Nights Of A Dreamer is a loose adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s White Nights so it's rooted in influence right off the bat).

The predetermined aspect in Robert Bresson's films were in full force from the late 60's (Une Femme Douce) until his final film (L'argent). That's not to say Bresson hadn't found his footing prior to Une Femme Douce (this is evident in The Diary Of A Country Priest which, in my opinion, is when he finally found his signature style), but it was cemented in the late 60's. Four Nights Of A Dreamer is a prime example of this. Besides the basic plot (two strangers fall in love after one saves the other from a suicide attempt), we're given expressionless faces (even in scenarios concerning intimacy and suicide attempts), emotionless/apathetic gestures (at the start of the film our hitchhiking protagonist is asked where he is going and he throws up his arms, with an expressionless look, as if to say; “I Don't know and I don't really care).

Four Nights Of A Dreamer / Slacker
(In Slacker, the character on the right kills his mother like it was a menial chore. This is very Bressionian)

Like I already said - lack of emotion & spirit could seem unappealing to some people (especially in cinema) but at the same time life can break us and make us apathetic & emotionless. Again – it's understandable if some audiences want nothing to do with that. Movies are supposed to be an escape for some people. The films of Bresson are a reflection of society to some degree and no one wants to spend their time watching their lives on the big screen or on a television. Some people want a momentary escape to make them forget about their (very real) Bressonian problems from time to time (living life set to an alarm clock, boredom, mindless commuting, etc). But at the same time that aspect of life shouldn't go ignored.

Bresson's influence knows no bounds especially in the world of french arthouse cinema. Take Michael Haneke for example. All of his Austrian films deal with the same problems in Bresson's films (depression, broken spirits, existentialism, predetermined lives, etc). Haneke's first three films look like stories from an extended Bresson universe.
In The Seventh Continent we see a family live life in the same predetermined depressed fashion (until they snap out of it and handle in their own way). Both The Seventh Continent & Four Nights Of A Dreamer show the same pointless/banal things we do on a daily basis...

Four Nights Of A Dreamer / The Seventh Continent

The same could be said about Hal Hartley who considers Bresson to be one of his favorite filmmakers (Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar is one of his favorite movies). The opening scene of The Unvelievable Truth is a clear homage to the opening of Four Nights Of A Dreamer in which both protagonists are aimlessly/hopelessly hitchhiking somewhere...

Four Nights Of A Dreamer / The Unbelievable Truth

Bruno Dumont, who at one point was nicknamed “The Son Of Bresson” due to the similar themes & acting style in his earlier movies, regularly borrows the same scenes from the films of Bresson as well...

Four Nights Of A Dreamer / Hors Satan
Four Nights Of A Dreamer / Slack Bay

I'd also be remiss if I didnt bring up Leos Carax's possible reference to Four Nights Of Dreamer in The Lovers On Bridge (both movies are shot in some of the exact same locations)...

Four Nights Of A Dreamer / The Lovers On The Bridge
Perhaps Four Nights inspired Leos Carax earlier than The Lovers On The Bridge...

Four Nights Of A Dreamer / Boy Meets Girl
(Both films start with pivotal scenes on a bridge and deal with tough break ups. The delivery of dialogue in Boy Meets Girl is also very Bressonian)

there's also Soderbergh's Solaris...

Four Nights Of A Dreamer / Solaris
Four Nights Of A Dreamer / Solaris

It should be noted that all the movies compared to Four Nights Of A Dreamer in this piece have similar plot points & scenarios.
In Soderbergh’s Solaris, Chris Kelvin’s wife tries to commit suicide like Marthe at the start of Four Nights Of A Dreamer (and the characters in The Seventh Continent are successful in their suicide).
Both “Emmet” (The Unbelievable Truth) & Michele (The Lovers On The Bridge) refuse to accept that their respective relationship is over much like Marthe.

So while some of these comparisons could be perceived as vague at first glance, there is some depth & validity behind these images...


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