Saturday, January 14, 2012

Bresson at Film Forum: Four Nights of a Dreamer

Robert Bresson arguably remains the greatest Roman Catholic auteur to forthrightly explore the themes of his faith on film. Never one to tell a simplistic morality tale, he also had a strong affinity for Russian literature. While characteristically Spartan in his approach, Bresson adapts Dostoevsky’s short story “White Nights” with a warm, colorful lyricism that makes angst strangely appealing. An artful, underappreciated minor masterwork amid his all too small filmography, Four Nights of a Dreamer screens this coming Thursday as part of the Bresson retrospective now underway in New York at Film Forum.

Jacques would appear to be representative of late 1960’s and early 1970’s French youth. Viewers are first introduced to the painter hitchhiking to the countryside for a day of frolicking in meadows, returning in the evening to soak up the ambiance of Left Bank nightlife. There he spies Marthe, a respectable young woman of modest means, on the brink of taking a suicidal plunge. Predisposed to romantic fixation, Jacques immediately falls in love. Over the following three nights, Marthe will confide her heartaches to Jacques, while he courts her with all due devotion.

A film largely heretofore experienced from copies of dubious quality and legality, Film Forum will screen a brand new, completely legit 35m print of Dreamer. It is indeed a welcome development, considering the richness of the film’s visuals. Bresson’s striking use of color motifs and cinematographer Pierre Lhomme’s luminous scenes of Paris by night are exquisitely seductive. Indeed, Bresson masterfully establishes the mood and setting through evocative ambient noise and a wide variety of diegetic music played by street performers. In a dark theater, it vividly transports viewers to nocturnal Paris, teeming with young people who have not yet run amuck.

Jacques and Marthe are truly two peas in a pod. They are both unusually earnest young people who feel their emotions deeply, though they are perhaps subject to abrupt change. Of course, were it not for Bresson’s dreamy vibe, they might be somewhat difficult to endure. Both Guillaume des FĂ´rets and Isabelle Weingarten emphasize their characters’ self-absorbed romanticism. Still, the former displays admirable conviction when delivering Jacques’ long obsessive monologues.

Dreamer recreates the fleeting feeling of late night in-the-moment chance encounters with subtle but potent immediacy. While that might sound like a small feat, it is actually quite powerful. Highly recommended, it screens this coming Thursday (1/19) in New York during Film Forum’s ongoing Bresson tribute.