- Audio commentary by Kent Jones (Associate Director of Programming at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, NY)
- A video clip of writer Marguerite Duras speaking about Robert Bresson
- Two video interviews with Bresson taped at the time of the 1983 Cannes Film Festival (one for French TV channel TF1; the other for Swiss TV channel TSR)
- Original Theatrical Trailer
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Robert Bresson's final masterpiece, L'Argent is a stunning protest against greed and corruption. A boy's parents refuse to lend him money, so a friend gives him a counterfeit 500-franc bill. This one act sets into motion a chain of events that will lead to murder.
The bill passes from hand to hand, and with each exchange comes another betrayal. To protect themselves, shopkeepers pass the bill on to an unsuspecting delivery man, Yvon, who is arrested and sent to prison. Rejecting the world that ruined him, Yvon turns to crime and destruction.
Inspired by a Tolstoy story, one of cinemas great masters creates a powerful tale of innocence corrupted.
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Those who never had the pleasure to be initiated in Bresson's stylistic cinema, might find it awkward and obtuse. Yet, if reflection were to be provided a different perspective might arise, which could deepen the observers notions of what they would see in cinema and in life. Many of the critics considered Bresson an old spirit from old days of cinema when he released L'Argent while they ought to have considered him as a cinematic innovator that did not conform to traditional narratives. Despite his unconstructive critics, who actually helped him secure his place in time among the cinematic scholars, his final film provides an intriguing tale of guilt in L'Argent. He based L'Argent on a personal adaptation of Tolstoy's The Forged Coupon, which deals with the fate of forgery.
Innocently, the teen Norbert asks for his monthly allowance while also trying to ask for a little more, but the father refuses to provide the extra money for his son. It is in this opening where the consequences of a horrific crime are about to take form, Norbert asks his friend Martial for financial backing. Martial has a forged 500 Francs bill, which they pass off in a small camera store where they buy a cheap frame. The owner of the store realizes later on that they have received a forged bill, and he also received two more at an earlier occasion. Instead of contacting the police the storeowner decides to pass the bills to someone else, and this unfortunate person happens to be Yvon Targe who gets paid with the forged bills for providing house oil. In the scenes where the money switches hands the camera dutifully studies the hand movements and the simplicity social destruction can be spread.
Yvon is charged for trying to use the forged bills, and he brings the police to the camera store where he receievd the forged bills. The storeowner informs the police that he has never seen him before and his assistant Lucien supports his testimony. This unfortunate event causes Yvon to loose his job, which leads him into a desperate situation where he tries to raise money quickly to save his family form further financial misery. However, the situation backfires when he first does not share with his wife what he is about to do, and second, he gets arrested and sentenced to jail for being an accomplice to a bank robbery. Parallel to Yvon's story the audience gets to follow a true criminal, Lucien, the camera store assistant, who is fired and later robs his former employer. Lucien accumulates a large sum of money through several illegal activities. Through the illusion of wealth his arrogance grows, and his ignorance of consequence leads him to become a Robin Hood character who donates to the poor including his former boss. This is a mistake that eventually sends him to prison where he meets Yvon.
The jail sentence becomes the beginning of a long downward spiraling journey for Yvon. When Lucien arrives to the jail they have a brief, but essential conversation at a Catholic mass. The irony that Bresson applies in this sequence is profound while Lucien declares to Yvon, "Neither of us is a killer. We alone have no one on our conscience." To this Yvon responds, "You have me on your conscience. You have to answer for that now." In the following scene Yvon wakes up to the alarm of Lucien's escape attempt. His cellmate comforts him and says that they will never have to see him again, as Lucien would be transferred to high security prison. "I will.", replies Yvon to his cellmate's effort to comfort him. Soon after Lucien's escape attempt Yvon finds himself a free man, but instead of a peaceful lifestyle he retorts with violent crimes.
The crimes that Yvon commits seem to be thoughtless acts of violence. However, recalling the scene where he talked with Lucien presents the situation in a different light, even if it seems disturbing and callous. The open ended conclusion of the story leaves the audience with a cliff hanger where several thoughts might run through the mind. Initially, it might seem dark and gloomy, but it also leaves the audience with several options to consider that can steer the story in many possible directions. The ending also leaves the viewers with a number of ideas to ponder. One of these notions could possibly be the truth about absolute guilt. It also questions whether innocence of an act and pure ignorance could be a crime. These and many other issues are left for the audience to ponder and muse over while L'Argent slowly settles with an enigmatic vision of the truth.
The story is moving, ironic, and emotionaly powerful.
I have this version, and the Artifical Eye PAL version, and the AE print is noticibly sharper and cleaner.
If you can play PAL, I recommend the Artificial Eye print.
There is talk that Criterion is toying with the idea of releasing a pristine print of L'Argent.
They need to hear from us to determine if there will be a market for this film.
I have already sent them an email, to request the release of this film, and the more people they hear
from the better.
Just go to the Criterion website and you will find instruction and link for recommending films.
I think Bresson was in his 80's when he made this film, and died in 1999 (same year Kubrick died).
This film is the best example of his cinematic style, and for me, is his most gripping masterpiece which
is even more relivent today then it was when it was made.
I ordered both this and the Artificial Eye version from Amazon.US, and Amazon.UK respectivly.
The service and delivery were excellent, as always.
NOTE ADDED 19Apr17:
Thanks to all who wrote to Criterion, our efforts paid off. They will be releasing it in a 4K restored transfer on 11 Jul 2017...
In regards to the end, I will give nothing away (I hope) but I feel the need to complain about the excessive conclusion that Bresson seems to want us to end up with. An innocent victim suffers one setback after another and he has our sympathy. However, what gets passed along from his hands to others is in no way a logical next step as the director would have us believe. Maybe others might think so. However, for me this leap of logic ruined the film's message. To paraphrase Cornelius Ryan, this was a misfortune too far.
The abstract mechnanized backdrop for the titles sequence is a money machine. As is so often the case, behind the deadpan performances of his nonactors (many of whom are superb in this movie), Bresson fetishizes on his subject unto hypnosis; in this film, notice how many times doors, small and large, are slamming, beginning with the automated one closing the first transaction, to the last image of a row of people gawking at the door. This film retains its searing impact through many viewings.
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This film is very different, at first glance, from other Bresson classics.Read more