Comedy · Drama · France · Religion

Angels of Sin (1943)

Robert Bresson, The Sublime Minimalist Part 1

1

Angels of Sin (1943)

It seems like a duty of cinephiles to praise a Bresson film after viewing ever since he was patronised as an unique master in cinema by scholars. The Bressonian films are unprecedented in its distilling dry tone which has been discernible since his first feature Angels of Sin (Les anges du péché), albeit in juvenile form. Narratively and thematically, Bresson debut full-length feature is relatively conventional; relied on exposition dialogue, shot in gorgeous black-and-white cinematography by Philippe Agostini, underscored with lyrical music by Jean-Jacques Grünenwald, involved with professional actors (which only happened one more time in his next feature Les dames du Bois de Boulogne). Still there are traces of his trademark like elliptical editing, religious theme of redemption, focus on hands or objects, to name a few. Retroactively, scholars might hold a higher regard of this film due to its idiosyncratic status as being the first in the filmography. Personally, I chose to ignore the signs of the birth of a true master and simply view the film as a standalone feature, it still hold up petty well.

The film mainly concerns the convent life and the sacrifing pathway of a wholehearted yet prideful girl Anne-Marie (Renée Faure) in her attempt to save a female ex-convict named Thérèse (Jany Holt) for salvation. Thérèse eventually seek refuge in the convent after murdering the man responsible for her unjust imprisonment. She exploits the presumptuous behaviour of Anne-Marie and manipulates Anne-Marie’s relationship with other nuns. Ultimately Anne-Marie’s obsessive determination in her vocation clashes with the strict order of the convent, and she is expelled. The film ends with Anne-Marie’s sacrifice and redemption of both herself and Thérèse. Scripted by Bresson with collaboration of a Dominican priest Raymond Léopold Bruckberger and dialogues by Jean Giraudoux, the film aims at scrutiny on the disparity, or otherwise the similarities, between good and evil. Physical Imprisonment in prison, or in a less extent, constraint by the strict religious order in the convent, are juxtaposed with the spiritual imprisonment by sinful pride and hatred, the end result is an ethereal liberation, albeit the last image is paradoxically a close-up on hand-cuffed hands.

Film Rating: 3.5/5

Les Affaires publiques (1934)

The debut short film directed by Robert Bresson is a singular oddity amid the auteur’s filmography, simply because it is funny! It’s refreshing to see how a young Bresson (notwithstanding he was 33 when he made this film) channels Charlie Chaplin, Rene Clair and Jean Vigo in setting up the comedic tone of a story set in two fictional countries, Crogandia and Miremia, very much in sync to Freedonia in Duck Soup (1933). Despite the effective visual and sound gags, the film ultimately looks like an exercise rather than a work of an artist with the idea for expression.

Film Rating: 2/5

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