L'ARGENT

Informal English title: Money

 (Robert Bresson, France/Switzerland, 1983) 85 minutes

L'ARGENT

Director: Robert Bresson
Producers: Jean-Marc Henchoz,
  Daniel Toscan du Plantier
Screenplay: Robert Bresson,
  inspired by Faux billet by Leo Tolstoy
Cinematography: Pasqualino De Santis, Emmanuel Machuel
Editor: Jean-François Naudon
Christian Patey (Yvon Targe)
Vincent Risterucci (Lucien)
Caroline Lang (Elise)
Sylvie Van den Elsen (Grey Haired Woman)
Marc Ernest Fourneau (Norbert)
Bruno Lapeyre (Martial)
Jeanne Aptekman (Yvette)

Reviews and notes

Festivals:
1983 Cannes, Sydney, New York
2016 (digitally restored version) Venice, New York, Haifa
2017 Hong Kong, New Horizons Poland


A forged 500-franc note is passed from person to person and shop to shop, until it falls into the hands of a genuine innocent who doesn’t see it for what it is – with devastating consequences on his life...
– Institut Français.


L'Argent Bresson's final film, is profoundly informed by the all-consuming despair of that which preceded it. It is structured as a domino tumble of sinister causality, ending in a spree killing by Yvon (Christian Patey), a working-class labourer set on the road to disaster by the receipt of a forged bill made by some blue-blood snots. When rewatching L'Argent every narrative detail that Bresson minutely records takes on the sinister aspect of another echoing step towards the gallows: the ATM skimming scam, the raising of a hand in violence at a prison cafeteria, the crash of a glass of white wine perilously poised at the edge of a piano. Every set-up makes sense only in connection with the preceding one and the one that succeeds it, and taken altogether they create a point by point declaration that the tainting, unavoidable influence of money has doomed the world to a state of perdition. From here, the only possible solution could be to start anew; that Bresson never realised his cherished adaptation of the book of Genesis is a fact to be greatly regretted. We must content ourselves with the great works we have, of which L'Argent stands among the greatest.
- Nick Pinkerton, Sight and Sound, October 2017.


That Robert Bresson, the veteran French director, is still one of the most rigorous and talented film makers of the world is evident with the appearance of his beautiful, astringent new film, L'Argent (Money). Mr. Bresson does not make films casually - L'Argent is only his 13th since his first feature, Les Anges du Peche, was released in 1943.

The man who made Diary of a Country Priest, Pickpocket and Lancelot du lac is at the top of his very idosyncratic form with L'Argent, which has nothing to do with the Emile Zola novel or Marcel L'Herbier's film adaptation of that novel. The Bresson film is inspired by a Tolstoy short story, and though I've never read it, I would assume that Mr. Bresson has turned it to his own purposes.

Set in contemporary France in an unidentified city that sometimes seems to be Paris but probably isn't, L'Argent is a serenely composed film that tells a ruthless tale of greed, corruption and murder without once raising its voice. It goes beyond the impartiality of journalism. It has the manner of an official report on the spiritual state of a civilization for which there is no hope.

The narrative is mainly concerned with Yvon, a young truck driver framed by some bourgeois shopkeepers, who identify him as the source of counterfeit notes. Because he has no criminal record, Yvon is given a suspended sentence, but he loses his job anyway. Soon he agrees to participate in a bank holdup to obtain money to support his wife and child.

The holdup fails and Yvon is packed off to jail, where things go from very bad to far, far worse. He loses all sense of compassion, and when he is paroled, he is beyond any redemption except God's.

Like all Bresson films, L'Argent can't be interpreted exclusively in social, political or psychological terms. Mr. Bresson's characters act out dramas that have been in motion since the birth of the planet. He's not a fatalist, but he insists on recognizing inevitable consequences, given a set of specific circumstances.

L'Argent would stand up to Marxist analysis, yet it's anything but Marxist in outlook. It's far too poetic - too interested in the mysteries of the spirit.

As usual, Mr. Bresson has cast the film largely with nonprofessionals, a practice that contributes importantly to the film's manner. Christian Patey, the young man who plays Yvon, possesses the dark, almost pretty good looks of something idealized, apotheosized. He is not only Yvon but also the representation of all innocents who have been betrayed by a system that rewards corruption.

Mr. Patey's is what amounts to a carefully designed nonperformance. He doesn't act his lines. He recites them as simply as possible, as do all of the performers. They give the impression of traveling through the events of the narrative without being affected by them, which reduces any chance that the film will prompt sentimental responses.

The look of L'Argent accentuates this chilliness. The images have the clean, uncharacterized look of illustration in the annual report of a large corporation. They are perfectly composed and betray no emotion whatever. This distance between the appearance of something and what it means is one of the methods by which the power of any Bresson film is generated.

L'Argent is not an easy film. It's tough but it's also rewarding, and it's the kind of film that justifies film festivals [and Film Societies -Ed].
- Vincent Canby, The New York Times, 24 September 1983.



Restoration:

This restoration was undertaken from the 35mm original camera negative and scanned at 4K resolution at Exlair Laboratories by MK2, with the participation of Mylene Bresson and the support of the Centre national du cinema et de l'image animee. The monaural soundtrack was transferred from the 35mm original magnetic tracks and restored by L.E. Diapason. Colorist: Bruno Patin/Eclair Laboratories, Vanves, France.
- Blu-ray.com, 11 July 2017.

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