CRIME AND PUNISHMENT (Pierre Chenal, 1935)

Stark, sturdy, Pierre Chenal’s Crime et châtiment strips Dostoievski’s novel nearly bare, dispensing with its plot density and philosophical richness, to focus on two things: dropout law student Raskolnikov’s anguished poverty, which motivates his rash acts (whatever his rationalizations, including the compensatory one of his intellectual and moral superiority, hence, existence above the law); after […]

ANGELS OF SIN (Robert Bresson, 1943)

Released from German imprisonment during the Occupation, Robert Bresson made his first feature, which, despite an exaggerated lead performance by Renée Faure, is brilliant. Les anges du péché is spiritually intense; watching it is an overwhelming, if unsettling, experience.      The Dominican convent here is Béthanie—a reminder of its proximity in Bresson’s Au hasard, Balthazar (1966), […]

LES DAMES DU BOIS DE BOULOGNE (Robert Bresson, 1945)

Denis Diderot, whose belief that knowledge is power was the impetus for his Encyclopédie during the Enlightenment, also wrote novels, including Jacques le fataliste (1773; 1796), an episode of which Robert Bresson, updating the plot to the present, adapted as Les dames du Bois de Boulogne. Under a political cloud, Jean Cocteau, who contributed brilliant […]

LANCELOT OF THE LAKE (Robert Bresson, 1974)

Robert Bresson’s Arthurian Lancelot du Lac, from Chrétien de Troyes, was meant to follow immediately Diary of a Country Priest (1950); by the time Bresson realized his dream project nearly a quarter-century later, his work had passed from black and white into color—color, here, rich, mysterious, hauntingly beautiful.      Still, this isn’t a period film in […]