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Robert Bresson ( in French) (25 September 1901 ‚Äď 18 December 1999) was a French film director known for his spiritual, ascetic style.


Bresson was born at Bromont-Lamothemarker, Puy-de-D√īmemarker. Little is known of his early life and the year of his birth, 1901 or 1907 varies depending on the source. He was educated at Lyc√©e Lakanal √† Sceaux, Paris, and turned to painting after graduating. Three formative influences in his early life seem to have a mark on his films - Catholicism, art and his experiences as a prisoner of war.

Initially also a photographer, Bresson made his first short film, Les affaires publiques (Public Affairs) in 1934. During World War II, he spent over a year in a prisoner-of-war camp - an experience which informs Un condamn√© √† mort s'est √©chapp√© ou Le vent souffle o√Ļ il veut (A Man Escaped). In a career that spanned fifty years, Bresson made only 13 feature-length films. This reflects his meticulous approach to the filmmaking process and his non-commercial preoccupations. Difficulty finding funding for his projects was also a factor.


Bresson's early artistic focus was to separate the language of cinema from the theatre, which often heavily involves the actor's performance to drive the work. With his 'actor-model' technique, Bresson's actors were required to repeat multiple takes of each scene until all semblances of 'performance' were stripped away, leaving a stark effect that registers as both subtle and raw, and one that can only be found in the cinema. Some feel that Bresson's Catholic upbringing and Jansenist belief-system lie behind the thematic structure of most of his films. Recurring themes under this interpretation include salvation, redemption, defining and revealing the human soul, and metaphysical transcendence of a limiting and materialistic world. An example is his 1956 feature A Man Escaped, where a seemingly simple plot of a prisoner of war's escape can be read as a metaphor for the mysterious process of salvation.

Bresson's films can also be understood as critiques of French society and the wider world, with each revealing the director's sympathetic if unsentimental view on its victims. That the main characters of Bresson's most contemporary films, L'Argent and The Devil, Probably (1977), reach similarly unsettling conclusions about life indicates to some the director's feelings towards the culpability of modern society in the dissolution of individuals. Indeed, of an earlier protagonist he said, "Mouchette offers evidence of misery and cruelty. She is found everywhere: wars, concentration camps, tortures, assassinations." In 1975, Bresson published Notes sur le Cinématographe (most commonly translated as "notes on cinematography"), in which he argues for a unique sense of the term, "cinematography". For Bresson, cinematography is the higher function of cinema. Whereas a movie is in essence "only" filmed theatre, cinematography is an attempt to create a new language of moving images and sounds.


Bresson is often referred to as a patron saint of cinema, not only for the strong Catholic themes found throughout his oeuvre, but also for his notable contributions to the art of film. His style can be detected through his use of sound, associating selected sounds with images or characters; paring dramatic form to its essentials by the spare use of music; and through his infamous 'actor-model' methods of directing his almost exclusively non-professional actors. He has influenced a number of other filmmakers, including Andrei Tarkovsky, Michael Haneke, Jim Jarmusch, and Paul Schrader, whose book Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer (ISBN 0-306-80335-6) includes a detailed critical analysis.


"My movie is born first in my head, dies on paper; is resuscitated by the living persons and real objects I use, which are killed on film but, placed in a certain order and projected on to a screen, come to life again like flowers in water." - Robert Bresson

Awards and nominations

Robert Bresson was given the Career Golden Lion in 1989 by the Venice Film Festival


Feature films

Short films

  • Les affaires publiques (1934)
    • Public Affairs


By Robert Bresson

  • Notes sur le Cin√©matographe ‚Äď translated as Notes on Cinematography and Notes on the Cinematographer in different English editions.

About Robert Bresson

  • La politique des auteurs, edited by Andr√© Bazin.
  • Robert Bresson (Cinematheque Ontario Monographs, No. 2), edited by James Quandt
  • Transcendental Style in Film: Bresson, Ozu, Dreyer by Paul Schrader
  • Robert Bresson: A Spiritual Style in Film, by Joseph Cunneen
  • Robert Bresson, by Philippe Arnauld, Cahiers du cinema, 1986
  • The Films of Robert Bresson, Ian Cameron (ed.), New York: Praeger Publishers, 1969.
  • Robert Bresson, by Keith Reader, Manchester University Press, 2000.
  • "Robert Bresson", a poem by Patti Smith from her 1978 book Babel
  • "Spiritual style in the films of Robert Bresson", a chapter in Susan Sontag's Against Interpretation and other essays, New York: Picador, 1966.


  1. Robert Bresson (1907-1999)
  2. Notes sur le cinématographe, Gallimard, Paris 2007, p.25.

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