The French director Robert Bresson, whose 13 films are currently being shown in a New York City retrospective, was a Christian artist without being a Christian man, i.e. a bona fide Christian believer. His cinematic style usually leaves me cold, although not in two great pictures he released during the 1950s: Diary of a Country Priest (from the Bernanos novel) and A Man Escaped. Here, the man who was raised a Catholic presents protagonists who receive significant mercy from God, in films as spiritual as they are austere. After that, however, works appear in which some spirituality arises, but mostly there is wan despair over the world’s violation of innocence–expressed through a flat, eccentric style. Even the very interesting and compelling Au hasard Balthazar (1966) is not quite what it ought to be. The “automatic, affectless performances” (Nick Pinterton, The Village Voice) Bresson demanded of his cast do the film no favors.
All the same, the two masterpieces I mentioned above–and 1945’s The Ladies of the Bois de Boulogne–prove the level of brilliance in Bresson before he took what I believe to be a regrettable turn for a Christian artist.
(The photo is of Robert Bresson.)