Robert Bresson, The Sublime Minimalist Part 10
Four Nights of a Dreamer (1971)
Four Nights of a Dreamer (French: Quatre nuits d’un rêveur) is based on the short story “White Night” written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, it’s the second Dostoyevsky’s work adapted by Robert Bresson since his preceding film A Gentle Woman (1969). The same short story was also adapted by Luchino Visconti as Le Notti Bianche (1957) which is permeated with star charisma by Marcello Masteoianni, Maria Schell and Jean Marais. Unquestionably, Bresson’s version is much more muted in tone with non-professional actors. Guillaume des Forêts played as Jacques, an introverted and reticent artist (painter) who was firstly seen hitchhiking at roads and doing somersaults in countryside during the opening scenes. With the elliptical editing, we catch a glimpse of the youthful side of the artist before he met a despairing woman Marthe (Isabelle Weingarten) on the edgy of committing suicide. He saved her and proposed a meeting the next night. The incident at the first night contributed only a small fraction of running time in a 90-minute film, and as the title suggested, there are three more nights before reaching the end.
As the couple met again at the second night, they each told their own story. Jacques is arguably antisocial, he represents the “dreamer” of the film since he repeatedly dictated into his tape recorder which was largely contributed by illusion instead of reality. Jacques spent most of his time alone, but even when an artist friend (Jérôme Massar) visited him, he would remain silence unless a question was asked. We would only hear his voice when he opened himself to Marthe, or via the replay of the recorded tape in which he repeatedly utter Marthe’s name in such a poignant tone. Here, the character’s emotion is not conveyed via acting, as in other Bressonian films, there are no actors but models. The juxtaposition of image and sound were more than enough for expression. Jacques’s friend has given a long speech of his view on arts which remarked the importance of absence and minimalism, that’s the quintessential practice adopted by Bresson in utilising the off screen space and spareness as the framework of the narrative. Bresson had worked as a painter before he turned into filmmaking, he once said “it’s almost impossible to have been a painter and to no longer be one”. It’s reasonable to deduce that the amalgamation of Jacques the painter and his visiting friend mirrors the creator’s life and art.
On the other hand, I find Four Nights of a Dreamer unreservedly romantic, albeit Bresson’s minimalist style and tendency to pessimistic ending. Marthe retold her past of falling in love with a lodger (Maurice Monnoyer) who left for scholarship in America and promised to come back one year later. Her idealized view of love ultimately disappointed her as she found out her lover was back but never contacted her. During the flashback scene, a naked Marthe sensually inspected her erotic body in appreciation without shameful consequence. It contrasts with the loss of innocence associated with humiliating effect in Au hasard Balthazar (1966) and Mouchette (1967). The reason of her attraction to the mysterious lodger is left for the viewers to contemplate, all we got were hints of erotic books, proposal for film-dating (intriguingly a film within-film structure with a gangster film which also shared Bressonian tone: a close-up of the hand of a dying man reaching out a gun) and knocking on the wall.
At the third night, Marthe’s love on the nonshowing man is gradually turned to Jacques as she thought Jacques helped her because m, paradoxically, he was not in love with her. The glittering colors and lights in Paris at night encompassed the couple, a luminous bateaux mouches glided gracefully down the Seine, accompanied by the mellow love song performed by a group of Latin singers on the boat. The imbued calmness was in sync to the implicit romanticism in the nocturnal scenes and the longingness of love from Jacques in the diurnal scenes. The film adopted the same ending as the source story in terms of the love triangle. As expected, there’s no outburst of emotion but a retreated artist back to his apartment, recording an illusioned tale in tape before proceeding to his non-finished paintings of portrait where faces were made up of large splotches of color. It’s the answer of an artist to reduce life into abstraction, as Bresson once asserted “creating is more about subtracting than adding. What’s important, what’s difficult with this art of images, is to find a way not to show, not to represent, but to suggest.” With Four Nights of a Dreamer, Bresson suggested a portrait of his own as a dreamer.