“What does it Matter? All is Grace”: robert bresson and simone weil

Angelaki 17 (4):157-177 (2012)


Admirers of Robert Bresson often remark on the commitments he shares with the philosopher and activist Simone Weil. Both stubbornly idiosyncratic, they subscribe to what modernists call “a poetics of impersonality”: a deep desire to shed the ego and find some space empty of will, intention and even consciousness. Bresson pursued this ideal through his anti-theatrical practice, his resistance to expression and interpretation, and his war against “acting.” In Weil's religious thinking, the possibility of achieving a state of automatism in the soul, and thus leaving room for God to occupy all, was central. “Decreation,” her term for this principle, sounds like a will to suicide but she explains it as motivated by love. Bresson's writerly films – the Bernanos adaptations – and Au hasard Balthazar – take as their theme the problem of grace. As in Weil, the path to grace goes through an acceptance of brutal necessity and incomprehensible accident. This is also the conclusion of Rossellini's Europa ’51. While André Bazin is a thinker with a keen sensitivity to grace and spiritual accident – his interest in depth of field is motivated by a desire to keep the free exercise of chance in play – his notion of love is more compassionate than anything we meet in Weil, Bresson or Rossellini. As Truffaut remarked, Bazin is a Christian from the days before the Fall.

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