THE DEVIL, PROBABLY (Le diable probablement) C+
France (95) 1977 d: Robert Bresson
If I did anything, then I'd be useful in a world that disgusts me.
—Charles (Antoine Monnier)
—Charles (Antoine Monnier)
Lessons of living, or perhaps moral tales of alienated youth, in the manner of Rohmer, late Bresson finally shows a director who incorporates a cinematic style of others while also remaining, at core, a Bresson film, as if he’s doing a variation and fugue on how he sees the world around him at this stage in his life, even doing riffs on himself. Opening with what could easily be outtake footage from Four Nights of a Dreamer (Quatre nuits d'un rêveur... (1971), a lit river boat at night floating down the Seine in Paris, offering a kind of harmonious view, from which Bresson precedes to one by one reject the various hopes of mankind, ending with a repudiation of a soulless modern society. A newspaper clipping shows an article on a suicide, which may also be investigated as a potential murder as well, but then Bresson backdates several months showing the events leading up to that day. Bresson already filmed two movies on suicides, Mouchette (1967) and Une Femme Douce (1969), while the year after this film was released, Rainer Werner Fassbinder released In a Year of 13 Moons (In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden) (1978), inspired by the suicide of his own lover, which is one of his most searingly personal works, revisiting the various places of a man’s life, where on the 5th day the case is made that no more days will be allowed to pass, where the suicide is not only understandable, but according to the director, “perhaps even acceptable.” Bresson seems to be on a similar crusade, where Charles (Antoine Monnier), a 20-year old Parisian college student of the 70’s, adamantly rejects every attempt he makes at love, education, politics, science, religion, music, friendship, and drugs before deciding to end his life, where presumably Bresson’s aim is the same as Fassbinder’s.
This is one film where Bresson’s core of detached actors exhibiting no emotions in their performances works to the film’s disadvantage, as despite knowing the outcome of the disillusioned youth ahead of time, this story unravels in the form of a human drama, where there is plenty of interaction between characters. Using political chants and slogans that would be right at home in a Godard film, schools in Paris are in revolt, caught up in the aftereffects of the 60’s student strikes, the student protest movement of the 70’s, where a television of all things is used to show the broadcast of the spread of poisonous toxins in food and in the atmosphere, nuclear fallout, depleting the ozone layer, contaminated water, deforestation, and other human atrocities. Charles is seeing two women, Alberte (Tina Irissari) and Edwige (Laetitia Carcano), who are themselves both friends, while Alberte is the former girlfriend of Michel (Henri de Maublanc), an environmental activist who believes the only way to correct the damage that has already been done from shocking ecological and political disasters is by raising the public’s awareness, eliciting help from Charles in distributing pamphlets. These four characters comprise the center of the film, as they are continually intersecting with one another, shown with the typical minimalist rhythm of characters moving through the city streets, in and out of doors, moving up and down stairways, elevators, or long hallways, where they spend a good deal of their time just trying to get somewhere.
Through a kind of trial and error method, Charles goes through the motions of giving each method a try, but ends up thoroughly denouncing every one, where even when arrested by the police, seen here set to the music of Monteverdi ROBERT BRESSON - EGO DORMIO de CLAUDIO MONTEVERDI ... (4:40), he is at a loss to explain to the police just what he is trying to do. His emphatic detachment at every turn suggests he is simply negating his humanness, where he is consciously choosing not to care or participate in class, in human relationships, in helping others or changing the world, where he is instead continually turning away from the rest of the world, choosing to actively “not” participate. This of course worries his girlfriends, who constantly worry and overprotect him, perhaps from himself, but no one shows much insight into his particular malady. Despite being involved and spending so much time with him, what do they really know about him? He has pulled away from them all, leaving no choice left but to follow the advice of a psychiatrist, who inadvertently mentions during a session how the Romans handled their individual fear of committing suicide, where they hired a Roman soldier to do the job for them. There’s a certain irony in the cluelessness of the psychiatrist, as he’s society’s chosen agent to responsibly prevent exactly what happens from happening, also in how easily Charles is able to obtain a gun from so-called peace activists and flower children singing songs by the riverbank. God is almost non-existent in this film, where man is simply disgusted with himself. God is nowhere to be seen. Instead man’s indifference borders on aristocratic arrogance, as his passive refusal to be human, in accepting the good and the bad and everything associated with it, forces others to carry his weight, making it that much more difficult to eventually change the negative direction of modern society. Outside of Au Hasard Balthazar (1966), this is the only other film written entirely by Bresson, but a somewhat theatrical wordplay expressing the meaninglessness and futility of it all likely ends up being his least effectual work overall.