THE DEVIL, PROBABLY (Robert Bresson, 1977)

Le Diable probablement is another “anatomy of a suicide” by writer-director Robert Bresson. Twenty-year-old Charles pursues a seemingly aimless course to an end of his devising in Père Lachaise Cemetery. (Stupidly, a psychoanalyst tells Charles how he can overcome his aversion to suicide!) Because it touches on the state of the world (its Parisian student movement, focusing on corporate France’s environmental assaults, exists in the shadow of 1968’s disillusioning Leftist failures), this is as close to a Godard film as one by Bresson would come. (The documentary evidence that the film provides of industrial pollution and its damaging effects is staggering.) The world is indeed out of joint, but political commitment proves insufficient to cover the void. (Charles’s father, a contractor, “pulls up trees with machines.”) The drift of a bed partner across a line of friendship only reaffirms the tenuous nature, the poignant insubstantiality, of youth.
    The film opens with a cut-and-dried newspaper account of the boy’s death and flashes back to show the human story behind the story. This also proves cut-and-dried.
    Our glimpse of Charles’s bare bottom (recall Jeanne’s bare feet in Bresson’s 1962 Trial of Joan of Arc?) overturns the detachment that is correlative to Charles’s festering dissociation. Charles’s face may have been blank throughout, but the image of his fleshy buttocks, to which no degree of abstraction can be applied, attests to his humanness. Despite/because of Bresson’s method, we come to feel keenly the loss of this boy’s life. While it may be true that Charles ends up doing what he has to do, it is equally true that we (along with Bresson) end up feeling what we have to feel.
    What makes Charles make his deadly bargain with an impatiently greedy junkie? The Devil, probably. Or God, perhaps.

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