In Robert Bresson’s first color film, Une femme douce, based on Dostoievski’s story “Krotkaya,” Luc loses his beautiful young wife (Dominique Sanda, brilliant), who drops from their bourgeois balcony to the classless street. Indulging his complacency, Luc impresses Anna, the maid, into listening to his half-hearted flashbacking attempt to piece together the puzzle of the girl’s suicide. But what of human feelings can a pawnbroker understand, one who trades daily in drops of human misery? (It’s easy to be generous with my money, he tells his wife. “Perhaps,” she counters, “but that doesn’t mean you own me.”) Luc is spiritually bankrupt, having missed the chance for redemption that his wife offered him. “I want to pray,” he confesses, “but I can only think.” He insists how she tormented him; we only see him tormenting her. Another confession: “I enjoyed our inequality.”
Bresson has updated the story to the present and moved it to Paris. The “gentle wife” goes unnamed, suggesting both her husband’s domineering and the girl’s vacated identity. All three main characters—the wife, Luc, Anna—are anonymous in a sense; Bresson delays shooting their faces, showing instead Luc’s pacing shoes, Anna’s hands in prayer, and the back of the suicide’s head as she lies on the blood-splattered pavement below the apartment. This last image—in sequence, actually the first—brings to a hard close the girl’s descent, which is rendered in mysterious, poetic, transcendental terms. From inside the apartment we view a chair rock and a table tumble on the balcony; cut to outside, where a heavenward camera captures amidst sounds of traffic the girl’s white shawl alive and floating downward, buoyed, caressed, kissed by air. It never lands.
Footsteps; doors opening and closing. Cool, wry, sad, hilarious—and erotically brushing Buñuel.
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