Plot: What’s it about?
Recently, I had the rare opportunity to watch a French film with my business partner Louis Petit who is from Belgium and therefore speaks perfect French. Louis is one of my favorite people in the world and also one of the few people I am in frequent contact with that has a real passion for French films. This makes perfect sense given that Louis grew up in a time where screen icons like Alain Delon and Belmondo lit up the screen for the very first time. Louis always jokes with me that Belmondo and the film Breathless helped his love life because Belmondo was not traditionally handsome and they looked similar. Looking through my collection I picked out ten possibilities that I had not seen and we decided to watch Criterion Collection’s recent release of Robert Bresson’s L’Argent (Money.) I had only seen two other Bresson films, and neither of us knew exactly what to expect.
Based on a story by Tolstoy called “The Counterfeit Bill,” or “Faux Billet,” L’Argent begins the film with a young man asking his father for some money. When his father denies his wish, he turns his attention to a friend that has made a large counterfeit bill. They take the counterfeit bill to an electronics shop and dupe the lady working the counter. The lady gets in trouble with her boss, but he decides that he will just pass along that bill and two other fakes on his next petrol delivery. The petrol delivery man, Yvon, takes the bulls unsuspecting and goes to eat lunch. At a restaurant Yvon is accused of trying to pass fake money and gets in a fight with the manager after he explains that the bills had come from his most recent stop. With the police accusing him of passing counterfeit bills and assault, they take him back to the electronics shop where the assistant, Lucien, lies and claims he has never seen him. These actions will irrevocably alter the life of Yvon and cause more evil to be unleashed.
This is a well made and thought provoking film that achieves its goal of showing that small wrongdoings can have much larger ripples throughout the world. It is a film that I was thinking about the next day. I agree with the film’s premise that wrongdoing can easily spread like a virus, and I am not immune to the idea that wrongdoing spreads even more easily when money is involved, That said, this is about as depressing a film as you are liable to watch anytime soon and not a film that I see myself watching again anytime soon, despite how beautiful the film looks.
Bresson cast unknown and untrained actors in all of the parts in the film to lend a certain realism to the film. This does have a realistic effect but some of the performances come off a little bit wooden. As one might expect from the director, the film is very well shot and looks like one of his films. I noticed many similarities to Bresson’s early film Pickpocket including numerous shots that focus on people legs and hands. Despite the dreary material, I enjoyed it for the most part. I could easily see the Russian influence on the film and how Tolstoy’s ideas are still very relevant now when transposed into modern times.
At the end of the day Louis and I both agreed that it was a fine film but it holds very little replay value. It is a film that holds no hope for humanity in it. Deeply cynical and deeply depressing, it is sadly not completely unrealistic depending on your worldview. On a film like this, go in forewarned and rent it before you consider a purchase.
Video: How’s it look?
Presented with an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, encoded with MPEG-4 with a new 1080p transfer of a 4K scan, Robert Bresson’s L’argent has been given the royal treatment by Criterion.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray release:
This new 2K restoration was undertaken from the 35mm original camera negative and scanned at 4K resolution at Exlair Laboratories by MK2, with the participation of Mylene Bresson and the support of the Centre national du cinema et de l’image animee.“ This is a fantastic looking transfer with a great level of detail. Similar to Criterion’s recent transfer of Barry Lyndon, this film looks amazing on a large UHD screen. Fans should be ecstatic with the way this one turned out.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The only track available on this release is a French LPCM 1.0 track. From the liner notes:
The monaural soundtrack was transferred from the 35mm original magnetic tracks and restored by L.E. Diapason.
This is an interesting track because the film itself has no score. It relies solely on the live sounds that are heard in the film. That said, this film takes place in a bustling French city and those sounds consistently come to life in the film. As can be expected, there is no hiss, dialogue is clear, and the track sounds great. Criterion do a great job on sound and this track is another notch in their belt.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Theatrical Trailer
- 1983 Cannes Press Conference – a filmed half-hour press conference for L’argent featuring Robert Bresson and actors from the film. The press conference was filmed after a screening of L’argent at the Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 1983. This feature shows Bresson strangely aloof and having difficulties with the harsh critics in the audience. This is a strange but sometimes fascinating piece that felt a little sad and mystifying. It is a lot like the film in that sense! (31 min, 1080p).
- “L’Argent” A to Z – presented here is a brand new essay, written and narrated by James Quandt. This is an excellent piece on Bresson and the film itself. Quandt admits that he has seen L’Argent fourteen times, so I was glad to have him walk me through what he took away from the film.
- Illustrated Booklet – a 40-page illustrated leaflet featuring an essay by critic Adrian Martin and a newly expanded 1983 interview with director Robert Bresson by critic Michel Cement.
The Bottom Line
A well-made film that even its most devout admirers will probably only want to watch once or twice. I look forward to watching more Bresson films, but I have a hard time recommending that people watch something this morose. My recommendation would be to rent this one before you buy it. For fans of the film, Criterion has done a remarkable job on the video and audio transfers and the supplemental materials are very interesting.