Friday, August 11, 2017

Classic Movie Review: The Devil, Probably (1977)

The Devil, Probably (1977)
Directed by: Robert Bresson.
Written by: Robert Bresson.
Starring: Antoine Monnier (Charles), Tina Irissari (Alberte), Henri de Maublanc (Michel), Laetitia Carcano (Edwige), Nicolas Deguy (Valentin), RĂ©gis Hanrion (Dr. Mime, Psychanalyste), Geoffroy Gaussen (Libraire), Roger Honorat (Commissaire).
In the film of Robert Bresson, suffering is often only alleviated by death. His is not a happy filmography, as his title characters – in Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) or Mouchette (1967) have lives of suffering and pain, that is only relieved by death – for Balthazar, when he is finally allowed to stop working and being tormented so he can lie in a field and die, and for Mouchette, finally stopping the abuse through suicide. By the time he made his penultimate film, The Devil Probably, in 1977, he had to have known people were onto his tricks, and I think he’s poking fun at them in the film. His final film – L’Argent (1983) messes with you more because of what you know about Bresson’s previous films – which makes where that one ends up even more devastating. But between all these masterpieces, there is this film which I found to be insufferable. Perhaps I was supposed to though – we cannot possibly be meant to like or sympathize with Charles, the main character in this film are we? Next time someone tells you millennials are spoiled and entitled brats, and it’s different in this generation than in previous ones, show them this film. Charles has them all beat by a mile.
Charles, played by Antoine Monnier, you see is a pure soul. He’s brilliant, but depressed. He sees through all the phoniness around him see – the emptiness of political engagement, of philosophy, or psychology, etc. He’s not crazy, he tells a psychologist near the end of the film – he just sees things too clearly. Throughout much of the film, I wondered just how seriously we were supposed to take Charles – does he actually believe the idiocy that comes out of his mouth, or is it all just a line (if it was a line, it was working – he has two beautiful young women fighting over who gets to save him through sex). But no, it appears, it is no line – Charles believes it. The question is, does Bresson?
I don’t think he does – while Bresson recognizes how Charles believes his own bullshit, and how those around him mistake that for depth, he also mocks them for it. There earnest readings as the show footage of environmental destruction, and people clubbing baby seals is certainly meant as mockery, isn’t it?
Ultimately, I do think that Bresson is trying to have it both ways in The Devil, Probably – trying to show just how seriously Charles –and the other youths in the movie – take themselves, and especially how Charles takes his “suffering”, while at the same time, mocks them for not really understanding the world around them. As he showed in Au Hasard Balthazar, Mouchette and L’Argent, the world can be a brutal, unfeeling, cold, cruel world. But the protagonists of those movies had much more to complain about that Charles, who sadly will never grow old to realize what an idiot he was as a teenager like the rest of us have to. I find much of Bresson’s work to be profound and moving – but not this one, which is more annoying than anything else.

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