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Neither God nor Master

Robert Bresson and Radical Politics

Brian Price

Publication Year: 2011

The French auteur Robert Bresson, director of such classics as Diary of a Country Priest (1951), The Trial of Joan of Arc (1962), The Devil, Probably (1977), and L’Argent (1983), has long been thought of as a transcendental filmmaker preoccupied with questions of grace and predestination and little interested in the problems of the social world. This book is the first to view Bresson’s work in an altogether different context. Rather than a religious—or spiritual—filmmaker, Bresson is revealed as an artist steeped in radical, revolutionary politics.

Situating Bresson in radical and aesthetic political contexts, from surrealism to situationism, Neither God nor Master shows how his early style was a model for social resistance. We then see how, after May 1968, his films were in fact a series of reflections on the failure of revolution in France—especially as “failure” is understood in relation to Bresson’s chosen literary precursors, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, and Russian revolutionary culture of the nineteenth century.

Restoring Bresson to the radical political culture from which he emerged—and to which he remained faithful—Price offers a major revision of the reputation of one of the most celebrated figures in the history of French film. In doing so, he raises larger philosophical questions about the efficacy of revolutionary practices and questions about interpretation and metaphysical tendencies of film historical research that have, until now, gone largely untested.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-11

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pp. 1-14

In the summer of 1977, Robert Bresson appeared in a wide array of French newspapers for inciting youths to suicide. Early in June, Giscard’s minister of culture and environment, Michel d’Ornano, announced that The Devil Probably would be banned to those under eighteen. The administration assumed that Bresson’s film promoted suicide as a logical response to...

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1 Crime as a Form of Liberation: Modeling Revolt in Pickpocket and A Man Escaped

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pp. 15-39

Despite the religious orientation of Bresson criticism, the films themselves are more concerned with crime than they are religion. Much of Bresson’s reputation, however, has been staked on the religious potential of tropes of the cell. Bresson’s criminals, it is often said, allegorize the precepts of divine law. The space of the prison cell is understood less as a social space...

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2 Word and Image, World and Nothingness: Logocentrism and Ironic Reversal in Procès de Jeanne d’Arc, Diary of a Country Priest, and Les Anges du péché

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pp. 40-68

If Surrealism provided Bresson the means for thinking of criminality as a series of operations for the appropriation of the terms of punishment for the sake of both pleasure and autonomy, it was certainly not recognized as such, or at least widely, in his own time. The dryness of Bresson’s religious allusions—the way religious quotations hover over the most antisocial of all...

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3 Man and Animal, Master and Servant: Au hasard Balthazar and Mouchette

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pp. 69-93

The question of interpretation that concerned us in chapter 2 is intensified in Bresson’s two films about animals, Au hasard Balthazar and Mouchette. It is in these two films—made back-to-back in 1966 and 1967— that Bresson’s concern with language and domination is redirected toward a consideration of the relation between man and animal. The distinction between...

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4 The Aftermath of Revolt: Une femme douce and the Turn to Color

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pp. 94-122

Léger’s observation about Dostoevsky and Balzac could just as easily stand as a description of Bresson’s montage style, their progeny in the age of film. Moreover, Léger’s comments suggest why it may not be altogether surprising to see Bresson, whose laconic characters seem wholly antithetical to Dostoevsky’s, turn directly to his work in 1969 with Une femme douce...

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5 Disintegration: Lancelot du Lac; or, The Failure of Identification and Totality

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pp. 123-147

If color in Une femme douce becomes a way to depict and understand the reconstitution of patriarchy in the aftermath of May ’68, in Lancelot du Lac color traces a process of social disintegration. Bresson remains concerned in Lancelot du Lac with the problem of revolution in the aftermath of its perceived failure. But where Une femme douce imagines the despair...

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6 The Agony of Ideas: The Devil Probably and Revolutionary Discourse

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pp. 148-182

Fassbinder offered this response to The Devil Probably (1977) at the 1977 Berlin Film Festival, where he sat on the jury. Fassbinder threatened to leave the jury unless his support for the film, which was entirely unappreciated by his colleagues, was made public. The cool reception of Bresson’s film in Berlin, and Fassbinder’s subsequent support for it, is not so surpris-...

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7 The Last Gasp: L’Argent and the End of Socialism

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pp. 183-206

This passage comes from a sustained discussion about politics and writing between Wiesel and his friend Mitterrand, president of France at the end of his final term, onetime member of the Resistance, and lover of literature. Noting Mitterrand’s adoration of Tolstoy in a previous remark, Wiesel rehearses a major assumption of Russian literature, that Tolstoy and...

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pp. 207-208

This book has taken a long time to arrive, and in the course of it I have accumulated a lot of intellectual debt and a number of addresses. The project began at New York University as my dissertation and has grown consider-ably since then. I am grateful to all of my teachers there, and to my committee in particular: William G. Simon, Richard Allen, Robert Stam, Charles...


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pp. 209-220


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pp. 221-224

E-ISBN-13: 9780816676606
E-ISBN-10: 0816676607
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816654628

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2011