Sunday, 26 February 2012

Le Diable Probablement (The Devil, Probably) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Though made in 1977, this stunning film is ahead of its time. Examining the disharmony felt by youth from a world they seem to have no power to change, Bresson creates a movie for ALL TIME - as moving and powerful as it is detached and clinical. This masterpiece is a most welcome inclusion in the continuing TIFF Cinematheque retrospective of the complete works of Robert Bresson, organized & curated by legendary film programmer-curator extraordinaire James Quandt.

Le Diable Probablement (The Devil, Probably) (1977) dir. Robert Bresson
Starring: Antoine Monnier, Tina Irissari, Laetitia Carcano, Henri de Maublanc, Régis Hanrion


By Greg Klymkiw

The key to unlocking the mysteries of this extraordinary film by Master Robert Bresson is, at least for me, found within a scene depicting a bus ride where the central character Charles (Monnier) declares that "governments are shortsighted". A nearby passenger responds that governments are not to blame for the sorry state of the world, but that "the masses" are the true guilty party.

I think there's truth in both. The masses, or to my way of thinking, the sheep - are like the blind leading the blind and because of the lack of foresight within majorities, they are easily influenced by governments, who in turn hold the POWER to lead, but for all the wrong reasons.

In the same scene, another passenger responds with a query that implies that someone or something forces the masses to "determine events" and that this mocks humanity. As such, he wonders who or what precisely leads the masses "by the nose".

The answer provided by the first passenger, which happens to also be the the title of the film is, quite simply: "The Devil, probably." For me, the Devil he/Bresson refers to IS government, or whatever true power is that GUIDES government. There is an evil in the World and it IS the Devil as, of course, a symbol of evil which is, in turn, one and the same with the God created by mankind (no matter which religion, ultimately - save perhaps for Buddhism) to instil fear, and in so doing, to yield the ignorance necessary to guide the masses any which way they need to be guided.

Even more telling for me is that Bresson has chosen to set his film against the backdrop of the student riots in France during the 70s whereupon, in the film's early stages, the almost Christ-like figure of Charles (the clearly non-Semitic, almost Nordic European version popularized in so much art during the first millennium) rejects the well-meaning, but ultimately empty rhetoric of the movement's leaders. Like Christ, Charles knows in his heart that he must sacrifice his life. The clear difference though, has less to do with making a sacrifice for mankind, but for himself.

Charles is disconnected from society and from the beginning of the movie we know he is dead. Bresson takes us back in time and we join Charles on his odyssey to seek some meaning and/or spiritual guidance during his last months - hoping he CAN change his mind about committing suicide.

Unlike Christ, though, he does not spend 40 days and 40 nights in the desert - alone with his Father. Charles seeks solace in the society he feels disconnected to. Abandoning the youth movement, he looks to the company of friends, nature, education, religion and even psycho-therapy. He receives no answers.

His choice becomes clear.

There is, however, a powerful implication that even Charles, for all his rejection of society, and most importantly, religion, still adheres to the idea that suicide is a sin and he seeks someone to murder him in order to not pull the trigger himself, thus risking eternal damnation.

Bresson creates yet another masterpiece. He hangs back and almost clinically depicts Charles's journey with the detachment of a scientist observing a specimen. There is, however, NOTHING cold about the thoughts and emotions this approach elicits. The movie is as deeply and profoundly moving an experience as great art should be - fuelling the mind and spirit whilst generating the visceral response of sadness, even despair.

The universality of this story is so overwhelming. Youth, no matter what generation they're from, has always experienced a disconnect from a society ruled by others. In this sense, the film feels as fresh today as it must have been in 1977.

One of the most powerful sequences has a group of the young people in a library A/V room watching a 16mm print of a documentary as they make notes for what might be a class assignment or even to simply provide some illumination upon their own disharmony with the world. The footage they watch looks like it could have been filmed just yesterday - depicting mankind's abuse of nature - everything from the culprits behind the depletion of the ozone layer to the horrific battering of a baby seal's head. We're as devastated with these images as are the young people watching them.

I defy any thinking person, no matter what their generation, to not be shaken, shattered and hopefully, illuminated by this great film that will, no doubt, live forever.

"Le Diable Probablement" is screening as part of the TIFF Cinemtheque's major retrospective organized and curated by the legendary programmer James Quandt. Aptly titled "The Poetry of Precision: The Films of Robert Bresson", this and every other Bresson film is unspooling at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto and over a dozen cinemas across North America. The film is screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox Sunday March 4 @ 5PM and Thursday March 15 @ 6:30 PM. Tickets are available HERE. "Le Diable Probablement" is also available on DVD.