Comparing Robert Bresson and Flannery O’Connor

The new issue of Senses of Cinema sounds is a feast of thought-provoking essays.

Not only does it have a feature on the long, slow emergence of Blade Runner as a classic, but it features four essays on Robert Bresson… including one that asks us to consider the correlation of Bresson’s filmmaking and Flannery O’Connor’s writing.

They express their faith through images and characters and styles that only seem faithless and without reverence. Initially, in O’Connor especially, this comes off as almost blasphemous, most famously, perhaps, with the murdered family in “A Good Man”. What kind of Christianity accommodates such slaughter? The action is an exercise or a test of recognition, a test we all often fail – the recognition, through others, of humanity’s connectedness or wholeness, no matter the character of the person. Bresson’s supposed lack of reverence occupies a similar place. Many of his films include apparently hopeless actions: Mouchette waving to the oblivious man on the tractor, and her subsequent suicide; Balthazar kicked, beaten and shot; Yvon’s murders. Yet what is being expressed is not spiritual cynicism so much as a play of resistance and surrender – spiritual conflict. In this, something like the suicides of Mouchette or the gentle woman become merely the sum figure arrived at through the dire mathematics of human suffering. What initially appears faithless is soon recognized and experienced as profoundly uncompromised belief. Characters suffer cruel indignities (Yvon’s Job-like trials, Hulga’s humiliation) not only that they may deserve redemption, but that they are toughened up enough – one might say, humanized enough – to receive it.


Thanks to GreenCine Daily for the links!

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet has two passions: writing fiction, and celebrating art — music, cinema, photography, literature — through writing and teaching. He is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” — Through a Screen Darkly. And his four-novel fantasy series, The Auralia Thread, which begins with Auralia's Colors, was published by Random House. He speaks at universities and conferences around the world about understanding art through eyes of faith. He is earning his MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University, where he has worked for 11 years as an editor, writer, and communications project manager. His work has been recognized in The New Yorker, TIME, The Seattle Times, IMAGE, Ravi Zacharias International — and Christianity Today, where he served as a film journalist for more than a decade. He recently began a weekly column called "Listening Closer" for Christ and Pop Culture.

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    “Let is be the feelings that bring about events, not the other way.” (Robert Bresson)