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The new Film Issue of Image “teems” with insight

I opened the new film issue of Image today, which was edited by cinephile Gareth Higgins and Rectify writer/director Scott Teems, and I was immediately caught up in a complicated conflict regarding one of my favorite filmmakers: Robert Bresson.

Image, Issue 93 — “Life in the Dark,” The Film Issue

In the essay called “Necessary Images,” Teems writes,

For years I’ve wrestled with this seemingly straightforward declaration from the notebook of revered French film director Robert Bresson (a small book, but a bounty of inspiration). I’ve wanted to believe in his “necessary images” and therefore aspire to create them. To use simple, unadorned imagery to distill the filmmaking process to its fundamental elements: juxtaposition and montage, sound and music. To tell a story with pictures. To eliminate beauty for beauty’s sake. And to resist the urge to manufacture emotion, lest I betray my lack of faith in the form.

The realization of this principle, in theory at least, would compel the audience to project themselves onto the screen, to bridge the gap between the expressed and the intended. It would necessarily result in the creation of films in which—to paraphrase Flannery O’Connor — “two plus two equals more than four.” That is to say, it would result in art.

If simplicity is the ultimate sophistication, then Bresson was one of our most sophisticated filmmakers. The quiet confidence with which he allowed his stories to unfold never ceases to astonish me. Like his Japanese contemporary Yasujirô Ozu, Bresson was fearless in his formalism, and the best of his work conveys a deep respect for his audience and a profound trust in the power of pure cinema.

And yet.

That’s a loaded “And yet.

Teems goes on to say that while he admires Bresson, he’s “rarely” moved by Bresson’s films.

That might be a good argument against Bresson’s mantra — but Teems doesn’t really mean to discount Bresson.

And I’m glad of that. Because I have found Bresson’s rule puzzling for a very simple reason: I think his images are uniquely and hauntingly beautiful.

Take Au hasard Balthazar, for example – one of my favorite films. By eschewing gaudy adornment, Bresson crafts images that focus my attention on the mysterious glory of the human form, the expressiveness of a human hand, or even the quiet opacity and poetic suggestiveness of a suffering farm animal.

 

 

And you’ll find that Teems, too, ends up acknowledging the power of Bresson’s carefully composed images, along with the achievements of many other directors — including several of my favorites, like Krzysztof Kieslowski and Abbas Kiarostami.

I recommend you read the whole editorial, and then pick up the whole film issue of Image. It’s necessary.

And beautiful.

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Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet

Novelist and critic Jeffrey Overstreet teaches writing (Seattle Pacific University) and film studies (Northwest University and Houston Baptist University). He's written a memoir of moviegoing and faith (Through a Screen Darkly, Baker, 2007) and a fantasy series that begins with Auralia's Colors (The Auralia Thread, Random House, 2007-11). He's worked since 2001 as a film critic and columnist at Christianity Today, and he's been a regular contributor to Image, Paste, and Christ & Pop Culture. His writing has been recognized by The New Yorker and The Seattle Times. He regularly speaks at universities, conferences, and churches in the U.S. and abroad. Want to invite him to teach or speak? Email joverstreet@gmail.com.