Robert Bresson, The Sublime Minimalist

A filmmaker’s filmmaker. Despite his links with the New Wave and postwar transformations of French cinema, […] Read more

A filmmaker’s filmmaker. Despite his links with the New Wave and postwar transformations of French cinema, Robert Bresson (1901-1999) was less experimental than visionary. He was a complete auteur whose beautifully crafted works constitute a scant thirteen films, combining deep aesthetic sensibilities with profound moral questions. Both creator and philosopher – a Catholic athiest as he called himself – he has become patron saint to filmmakers as important as Ingmar Bergman, François Truffaut, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Michael Haneke.

Bresson was born in at Bromont-Lamothe, Puy-de- Dôme, in central France. Although intensely private about his life, he was clearly shaped by a deep Catholicism whose themes – including the basic struggle for salvation and redemption – permeate many of his works even if reframed in terms that become questions rather than answers for his characters and audiences. His experiences in World War II – including his time as a prisoner of war – also proved formative, especially in his masterpiece A Man Escaped (1956).

Yet if his themes probe the essential questions facing men and women within modern French society, his vision and demands as a director also made his cinema powerful and poetic. Bresson began his career as a painter, and continued to blend an aesthetic eye with a rejection of the artifice associated with theatrical performance. Indeed, Bresson gave up on actors and used non-professionals whom he could treat as models in the quest of the unity and transcendence of film. In his hands, they incarnated simple country girls, religious figures torn by doubt, saints and sinners, and even knights stripped of myth but imbued with new power. Meanwhile, Bresson found inspiration in Bernanos, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy while translating their works into new forms and stories.

Martin Scorsese famously said that “We are still coming to terms with Robert Bresson and the peculiar power and beauty of his films.” This retrospective allows the Hong Kong audience to experience his masterworks, nearly two decades after his death, and join (or rejoin) generations of students and fans in this quest.

Further reading:
Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne, The Films in My Life, from Truffaut, François. The Films in My Life. Translated by Leonard Mayhew. London: Allen Lane, 1980
Un Condamne a mort S’est Echappe, The Films in My Life, from Truffaut, François. The Films in My Life. Translated by Leonard Mayhew. London: Allen Lane, 1980
Filmmakers on Bresson – Martin Scorsese, Robert Bresson by James Quandt (Toronto: Cinematheque Ontario, 1998)
Filmmakers on Bresson – Olivier Assayas, Robert Bresson by James Quandt (Toronto: Cinematheque Ontario, 1998)
Filmmakers on Bresson – Aki Kaurismaki, Robert Bresson by James Quandt (Toronto: Cinematheque Ontario, 1998)
Filmmakers on Bresson – Andrei Tarkovsky, Robert Bresson by James Quandt (Toronto: Cinematheque Ontario, 1998)
Filmmakers on Bresson – Hal Hartley, Robert Bresson by James Quandt (Toronto: Cinematheque Ontario, 1998)
Spiritual Style in the Films of Robert Bresson by Susan Sontag, From Robert Bresson by James Quandt (Toronto: Cinematheque Ontario, 1998)

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The Flamboyant Masculinity of Mifune Toshiro

Mifune Toshiro (1920-1997) is a name to conjure with. Renowned as the world’s best samurai actor […] Read more

Mifune Toshiro (1920-1997) is a name to conjure with.

Renowned as the world’s best samurai actor with his masculine portrayals of powerful warlords, Mifune certainly had more to impress audiences as a galvanic performer. He was an ambitious general, a shoe tycoon and a roguish rickshaw man, displaying both a screen-idol magnetism and an astonishing range stretching from classical tragedy to light comedy.

Mifune rose to stardom through Kurosawa Akira’s classics. He was cast in leading roles in all but one of the seventeen films Kurosawa made during the period of 1948 and 1965. Yojimbo (1961) and Red Beard (1965) won him the Best Actor Award at the Venice Film Festival, and the distinction of being the only actor to have received that prestigious award twice. The director wrote of him in his autobiography: “It was, above all, the speed with which he expressed himself that was astounding. The ordinary Japanese actor might need ten feet of film to get across an impression; Mifune needed only three.”

Yet with all his quickness and precision, Mifune also had surprisingly fine sensibilities, with deep roots in classical Japanese drama. Besides glittering in Kurosawa’s films, his many compelling roles in collaboration with acclaimed filmmakers including Mizoguchi Kenji, Okamoto Kihachi and Inagaki Hiroshi had also won him a passionate following all across the world.

His majestic screen persona was a muse for Hollywood filmmakers – his emblematic samurai role in Yojimbo was transformed into Clint Eastwood’s wandering gunfighter in Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964). The legendary man was, not quite surprisingly, George Lucas’ ideal actor for the role of Darth Vader. The villain’s helmet was apparently designed with Mifune in mind. If he had taken the role, the character would have a different story.

A Japanese magazine conducted a survey in 1984 to determine who its readers thought best epitomized Japanese manhood and its ideals of pride, power and virility. Their choice: Mifune Toshiro. And he always is.

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The Labyrinth of Mystery Jacques Rivette

Revered amongst his peers and widely admired by critics and cinephiles, French director Jacques Rivette (1928-2016) […] Read more

Revered amongst his peers and widely admired by critics and cinephiles, French director Jacques Rivette (1928-2016) is well known for his historical association with the French New Wave. Yet, his six-decade career not only honed the ideas he espoused as a film critic, but also continued to challenge such questions of engagement, authenticity and improvisation in his filmmaking practice. From his first short films in the 1950s, to his last feature film in 2009, Rivette’s oeuvre testifies to his interest in experimentation and exploring alternative ways in which films can be conceived and produced.

Like his contemporaries, Rivette first frequented film screenings in post-war Paris and began collaborating with fellow cinephiles in film criticism. He began writing in the short-lived Gazette du Cinéma before becoming a writer and later the editor-in chief for Cahiers du Cinéma, in which he conducted key interviews with directors such as Hawks, Hitchcock, Welles and Renoir.

Rivette’s concurrent engagement in watching, making and writing about films during the 1950s and 60s contributed synergistically to his ability to elaborate upon what he deemed as “the truth of the cinema” – an idea which he pursued in some of his most well-cited articles as well as films such as Paris Belongs to Us (1961), L’Amour Fou (1969) and Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974). Inspired by Renoir, Rivette exercises “a cinema which does not impose anything…where the act of filming is part of the film itself.” To wit, he frequently collaborated with actors to make films virtually without a traditional script, relying on improvisation and chance in capturing long takes, unrehearsed lines and movements. Many consider his cult 13-hour film, Out 1 (1971), as the culmination of his experimentation with theatricality and long-running cinema.

Cine Fan takes this opportunity to present a film by Rivette every month as a tribute to him and his fascinating body of work.

Further reading:

Jacques Rivette – The New Biographical Dictionary of Film by David Thomson, From The New Biographical Dictionary of Film by David Thomson (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002)

Jacques Rivette_eng_The St James, From The St. James Film Directors Encyclopedia by Sarris, Andrew (Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1998)

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Edward Yang , 10-year Commemoration

When Edward Yang passed away on June 29, 2007, world cinema lost a true visionary. In […] Read more

When Edward Yang passed away on June 29, 2007, world cinema lost a true visionary. In less than three decades and with only seven features, Yang created an oeuvre of stunning beauty, power and originality that not only defined the Taiwanese New Wave, but helped define modern Taiwan as well. From his poignant That Day, on the Beach to his final masterpiece, A One and A Two, Yang’s works shimmer with the complexity of human life. Typically non-linear in narrative, his films are more concerned with the characters’ journeys and the tension between modern and traditional values.

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