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LíArgent (Robert Bresson, 1983)


    In Robert Bressonís LíArgent, the exchange of money becomes a surrogate exchange of emotion, indicative of a society thatís working toward wealth instead of striving toward grace. Though a mere plot summary of the film would make it sound like a leftist political tract through the directorís execution it becomes a different animal entirely. He focuses on the physicality of the actors, and their stilted delivery and emotionless affect dilute the filmís ability to function as mere melodrama or propaganda. Their unresponsive acceptance of their fates shifts the focus of the story from their individual fate to society as a whole, but concurrently hints at the inexpressible soul that lies within the characters. Perhaps this feeling is most intensely felt in the moment where, after being called a liar, Yvon, that young man who serves as the focal point of the tale, calls his accusers ďmadĒ. His flat expression of the line feels inadequate, except to the extent that it keys us into the fact that he on some level realizes his inability to change his fate. Bressonís characters, at least as far as their corporeal existence is concerned, are simply cogs in a wheel, participants in an inevitable cycle of destiny. Their souls, however, seem to recognize the potential to transcend this state, operating on an almost sub-subconscious level. The directorís focus on the minute physical details in every transaction keys us into the robotic nature of physical existence, hinting in every shot that thereís something beyond it.


    LíArgent, in which remorse is expressed through theft and deliverance is achieved, in a way, through murder, casts a jaundiced eye on society, but itís not entirely pessimistic. Despite a plot filled with characters that make decisive choices, Bresson sees so much order in the world that people are not held accountable for their actions in melodramatic terms. The ending, most of all, shows Bressonís ability to find an alternate route to grace, given the circumstances. In a world so corrupted by greed and thanklessness, the final actions of the protagonist have a most unexpected feeling of compassion and personal redemption around them, despite being unmistakably ďevilĒ from any conventional moral stance. The prison, a fixture in many of Bressonís films (the director himself was a former P.O.W.), becomes a refuge from the evils of the world, and Yvonís decision to return there is a rejection of the corrupt world. Driven by his conflicting desires for divinity and material pleasure, Yvon becomes an illustrative example of manís fallibility and his yearning thatís grounded in mundane modernity that any one of us can relate to. The movie demonstrates the near impossibility of attaining grace in a world that pushss desires like avarice to the fore.




Jeremy Heilman