Brian Price, “The End of Transcendence, the Mourning of Crime: Bresson’s Hands,” Studies in French Cinema 2, No. 3: 124-135.
Price’s essay is quite important in Bresson criticism and does a number of things very well. First, he attempts to shift the critical landscape away from transcendentalism and examine Bresson’s films through the lens of social criticism. It’s about time that someone tried this. Interestingly, Price doesn’t sacrifice a version of an authorial approach to Bresson, a popular methodology in Bresson criticism, but he nuances it by emphasizing intertextuality. This rather productively gets us away from things like “Bresson’s Catholicism” and back to the films themselves. Also, Price makes some helpful observations from Bresson’s later films such as L’Argent, pointing out how, indeed, there is more going on than themes of grace and redemption. However, Price might misstep when he (1) loses the baby with the bathwater in his emphasis of social critique over spiritual themes and (2) reads Bresson’s later oeuvre back over his earlier films. As for (1), Price goes so far as to note possible homoerotic themes in Pickpocket and conclude that that film is “just as much” about sexual critique as it is about its other, more traditionally noted themes. For the sake of argument, we might acknowledge the possibility of a sexual undertone, but if an intertextual reading of Bresson’s films teach us anything, it’s that such a theme is not a prominent concern of Bresson’s. As for (2), I’m not sure. Certainly the 1956 A Man Escaped may be profitably read backwards, through the lens of the 1983 L’Argent. And Price’s appeal to Bresson’s early association with Surrealism and its implications on social critique lend weight to this approach. But is Price saying something overall about Bresson’s films, as if the analyses he gives are exemplary, or could we pursue a similar approach looking at very different themes? Social critique may well be at the heart of a lot of Bresson’s films, but what can we salvage from the so-called “transcendental” approach?