Robert Bresson On Filmmaking Part Four “Notes on Cinematography”

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Robert Bresson film Mouchette

Robert Bresson’s Mouchette.

The first part of’s coverage of Robert Bresson’s seminal book on cinema and film theory “Notes on Cinematography” examined some of the filmmaker’s thoughts on the difference between cinema and theater. Part two compiled eclectic quotes, including the memorable “Your film must resemble what you see on shutting your eyes. (You must be capable, at any instant, of seeing and hearing it entire.)” Part three focused strictly on film music and sound, one of the central themes for both Bresson’s film theory and cinema.

This post will focus on practical filmmaking quotes (not to be confused with cooking, “the only alternative to filmmaking” according to Werner Herzog). They follow in no particular order and are not necessarily connected to each other, just like in Bresson’s book. The quotes often exemplify the particular fragmented writing style of Bresson, which sometimes omits verbs and complete sentences.

Set up your film while shooting. It forms for itself knots (of force, of security) to which all the rest clings.

Don’t think of your film apart from the resources you have made for yourself.

With this sentence Bresson seems to remind that despite its artistic side, filmmaking is also a matter of practical thinking.

An old thing becomes new if you detach it from what usually surrounds it.

Here Bresson may be once again referring to Sergei Eisenstein’s theory of montage and the idea of transforming the meaning of individual scenes through editing. As the director said in part one, “An image must be transformed by contact with other images, as is a color by contact with other colors.” However, here Bresson may also refer to surroundings in a more general sense–whether it is mise-en-scene or an unusual camera angle.

Things made more visible not by more light, but by a fresh angle at which I see them.

All those effects you can get from the repetition (of an image, of a sound).

The field of cinematography is incommensurable. It gives you an unlimited power of creating.

Avoid paroxyms (anger, terror, etc.) which one is obliged to simulate, and in which everybody is alike.

Your film is not readymade. It makes itself as it goes along under your gaze. Images and sounds in state of waiting and reserve.

The sight of movement gives happiness: horse, athlete, bird.

Bresson touches on one of cinema’s central topics, the illusion of movement, which Chris Marker examined in the experimental short La Jetee.

Let images and sounds present themselves spontaneously to your eyes and ears as words do to the spirit of a creative writer.

Because you do not have to imitate like painters, sculptors, novelists, the appearance of persons and objects (machines do that for you), your creation or invention confines itself to the ties you knot between the various bits of reality caught. There is also the choice of the bits. Your flair decides.

Your film must take off. Bombast and the picturesque hinder it from taking off.

See your film as a combination of lines and of volumes in movement apart from what it represents and signifies.

Cut what would deflect attention elsewhere.

Make visible what, without you, might never have been seen.

So it seems, for Bresson the ultimate role of the filmmaker is to unveil the hidden subtleties of perception. A film director, then, is someone who captures the elusive and ineffable, and depicts the unseen.

To translate the invisible wind by the water it sculpts in passing.