LES DAMES DU BOIS DE BOULOGNE
Robert Bresson’s Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne deserves a few explanatory notes, if only because this brilliant work has been so widely and wildly vilified by so-called realistic criticism. Realism, as Harold Rosenberg has so sagely remarked, is but one of the 57 varieties of decoration. Yet, particularly where movies are concerned, the absurdly limited realism of the script girl and the shop girl is too often invoked at the expense of the artist’s meaning. Why, oh why, whines one local reviewer, does Maria wear long dresses in the afternoon? (This same reviewer is unperturbed by the transparent contrivance through which East German nuns are dumped pathetically in Arizona, where they can be saved with topical miraculousness by a Negro deus-ex-machina machinist out of Robinson Crusoe via Going My Way—but that is another story.)
Furthermore, screenwriting involves more than mere dialogue and plot. The choice between a cut and a camera movement or a close-up and a long shot, for example, may quite often transcend the plot. If the story of Little Red Riding Hood is told with the Wolf in close-up and Little Red Riding Hood in long shot, the director is concerned primarily with the emotional problems of a wolf with a compulsion to eat little girls. If Little Red Riding Hood is in close-up and the Wolf in long shot, the emphasis is shifted to the emotional problems of vestigial virginity in a wicked world. (To cut back and forth between the two characters is to emphasize their conflict; to enclose them within a circular camera movement is to emphasize their complicity.)
Directors, How Personal Can You Get?, Andrew Sarris
Confessions of a Cultist: On the Cinema, 1955-1969
A shot where the camera is fixed in one position while the action continues off-screen. It says life is messy and can not be contained by a camera. Beloved by Woody Allen and the dolly grips who can take the afternoon off.
Another interpretation I read: It says the world goes on without us. I think this take was from Andrew Sarris and he was referring to Robert Bresson. But I can’t find the specific reference…
“Bresson has been criticized on at least one occasion for showing a place a beat or two after the people have departed, thus fading out on geography rather than humanity. Far from being a flaw, this Bressonian mannerism expresses an attitude of man’s place in the universe. For Bresson, place precedes and transcends person, since the world was here before we came and will be here long after we are gone.”