ROBERT                    
BRESSON
 

Sorry, your browser doesn't support Java.


THE FAILURE
TO FIND  THE HOLY GRAIL
 
 The fact that the general public has managed to completely disregard the films of Robert Bresson has not detracted one iota from his firmly-established position as one of the world's great directors. (Even his passing at the end of 1999 was largely ignored by the world press!) And since his films capture the naturalness of life like nobody else's, his lack of worldly recognition can be used as an effective gauge to see just how far the general public has slipped along the downward slide in their preference for some kind of unnatural, glamorized and trivialized version of existence.
 
"The immortality of the soul is a thing of so much importance to us, which touches us so deeply, that one must have lost all feeling to be indifferent about it."
(Pascal)
 
    L'Argent, Pickpocket, A Man Escaped - these films are nothing short of phenomenons in cinema history, so naturally is the very flow of life captured in them. No other director captures life quite how it is: simple, full of coincidences, full of details, which only seem insignificant, but which very often turn out to be the keys to the fate of an individual. Bresson himself describes this most eloquently:
". . . the more life is what it is - ordinary, simple, without pronouncing the word 'God' - the more I see the presence of God in that. I don't know how to quite explain that."
 
    The most challenging aspect of his films, therefore, lies not so much in the austerity of his cinematic language, but in the demand he makes upon the viewer to sense this "presence of God." This sensing can only be achieved by engaging our SPIRIT into the process of viewing. And since most people keep their spirits tightly shut away within them, it is small wonder that they cannot sense at all what it is that makes Bresson's films so special.
    Another striking characteristic of his films is the absence of emotion in the "performance" of his "actors". In fact, Bresson does not use any professional actors at all. Having long since despaired of getting anything natural out of them in terms of moving and speaking, he entrusts all the roles in his films to ordinary people (he calls them "models"). The absence of emotion in his characters bespeaks of the authenticity of their spiritual experiences, for a genuinely spiritual event will be, more often than not, devoid of any emotion. And if emotion does manifest in it, it will be unlike anything one sees in Hollywood films. This is one of the most valuable observations Bresson was able to make through his intuition: spirituality exists not only APART from emotion, but it actually stands ABOVE emotion on the scale of experiencing. This observation is a great "acid test" for any film with a claim to spirituality (as well as a great test for the re-evaluation of our own personal experiences in life.)
    The recording of spiritual experiences, which are devoid of emotion, is a trademark of all Bresson's films and, in this respect, one can hardly be ranked above the other. The key to his success lies in his choice of "instrument" used during filmmaking: the intuition vs. the intellect.
 
"I don't think so much of what I do when I work, but I try to feel something, to see without explaining, to catch it as near as I can - that's all . . . Thinking is a terrible enemy. You should try to work not with your intelligence, but with your senses and your heart. With your intuition." (Bresson)
 
    It is this use of intuition that enables Bresson to produce such profoundly spiritual moments as these:

A bright young man, who has rebelliously dropped out of society, arranges his own death in protest to the abominable state of humanity. On his way to his final destination, he pauses when he hears a hauntingly beautiful Mozart melody coming from an open window. He looks through the window, as if hoping to discover the true source of this beauty (and, perhaps, even a reason to end his protest right there.) What he finds, however, is a television set playing in the background. And so he moves on. (from The Devil, Probably)

Mouchette, a young girl in desperate need of love and understanding, finds only bitterness and cruelty. On the day of her mother's death, something finally snaps within her and she rolls down a hill towards a pond with the intent of drowning herself. Her first attempt fails, so she has the opportunity to reconsider. Just then, she hears the sound of a passing tractor and runs over to waive to its driver. Will he waive back to her? The decision of her earthly life hangs in the balance. The driver turns his head, looks at her, but does not waive back . . . (from Mouchette)

The final murder scene: not one second of violence is depicted. Instead, we see the dog following the murderer with his blood-stained axe from room to room. We hear hardly any reactions from the victims - only the dog's reaction (a desperate whimpering) is recorded, intensifying even more the horror of the scene. The last victim sits up in her bed. Next cut: we see the murderer's hands with the axe raised and hear a single utterance: "Where's the money?" Another cut: close-up of a lamp on a table with its light reflected on the wall; we hear the sound of an axe coming down, but see only that lamp being shattered with one blow, while the light on the wall lingers there for a few more seconds and is then extinguished. (from L'Argent)

    The severity and precision of Bresson's editing cuts like a knife and leaves the viewer with an indelible impression. His preoccupation with coincidences (the way various little threads come together and shape the fate of the characters) reveals, once again, a keen intuition at work. But intuition without Knowledge can probe only so far. In this respect, the falling through of Bresson's planned film Genesis can only be regarded as a proverbial "blessing in disguise," for when it comes to the origin of life, intuition alone is not enough. And the film like Four Nights of a Dreamer proves it. A surprisingly superficial film for Bresson, it shows that even a great director cannot sort through life's mysteries (in this case, the enigma of male/female relationships) without the proper knowledge.
    On the other hand, his film Balthazar can easily qualify as the greatest film ever made. It is told from the point of view of a donkey, whose life turns into a continuous strain of suffering as a result of not only cruel acts of the bad people, but just as much as a result of the ordinary, selfish acts of the good people. In its unsurpassed simplicity, this film stands all the more effectively as a shattering indictment against humanity: women as well as men, the old as well as the young, the good as well as the bad. It makes it devastatingly clear that there is some kind of a fundamental wrong resting within every human being, which makes him cause suffering to others and to himself as a matter of course. We shudder, when we see the donkey Balthazar being abused by the bad people. Yet it is the basically good people, who set the donkey's life-cycle of misery into motion: the farmer and his daughter. When she no longer finds time to care for Balthazar, her father declares that they might as well get rid of him, adding in irritation: "That donkey makes us look ridiculous!" All the suffering that later manifests in the lives of these two people can be traced to this single act of thoughtless selfishness. But they never recognize this, and thus fail to learn and benefit from their own suffering. The donkey is a silent witness to it all with a silent question: is it not man, who makes himself look ridiculous? Is it not human beings, who now appear ridiculous in the eyes of the entire Creation looking on, because they have failed to acquire the True Knowledge about the cause-and-effect of their own behavior and to adapt themselves accordingly to the workings of Creation?
    Two films of Bresson occupy a special place in film history for reasons other than his usual cinematic excellence: The Ladies of the Bois de Boulogne and Lancelot du Lac (Lancelot of the Lake). The Ladies of the Bois de Boulogne reveals the special power of womanhood to either uplift or destroy. This is personified by the two leading female characters: one woman (seemingly proper on the outside) weaves a web of jealousy, envy and destruction, while the other (already having fallen into corruption) grasps the chance to sever herself from her past and strives with all her strength to attain to an ideal of womanly purity. To see a woman striving towards purity (NOT puritanism) is so rare, both on screen and off, that it deserves a special mention. Simple and touching is the line she utters at the end, after having collapsed as a result of her exhausting inner struggle. Lying on the bed, like a vision of pure beauty, in a room overflowing with white lilies (yet another great example of Bresson's intuition) and in her pure white wedding gown, she says: "Many good girls become bad girls... Maybe I'll be an example of the opposite..." Knowing Bresson's special feeling of connection with Russian literature (Pickpocket and Au Hasard Balthazar are freely adapted from Dostoyevski's Crime and Punishment and Idiot respectively; Une Femme douce on Dostoyevski's A Gentle Creature and Four Nights of a Dreamer on Dostoyevski's White Nights; L'Argent has as its source Tolstoy's The Counterfeit Note), it is, perhaps, appropiate to recall here the words of Anton Chekhov on the beauty of womanhood:
 
"Beauty should be pure: of face, of dress, of the mind."
 
    The second special film is Lancelot of the Lake, which is based on the Grail Legend. The interesting feature of Bresson's film is that he chooses the end of the legend as his starting point: the knights have returned from their quest, having failed to find the Holy Grail. So here, once again, Bresson intuits and cuts to the very heart of the matter: the FAILURE - the failure on the part of mankind - to find the Grail. The Grail legend, which should have conveyed to mankind the promise of the greatest significance, has been, by and large, strangely neglected in the higher arts. This could be because so many different and even contradictory versions of it have multiplied over the centuries. Perhaps, the artists have intuited that something essential must have been distorted in this process and that not much of the original meaning and power has been left. And this is indeed the case. As mankind distanced themselves more and more from the Light and the rest of Creation, their vision of ALL things has narrowed down and has become distorted. Through this distorted vision, it appeared to them as though the Holy Grail Itself can be located here on earth. They no longer could conceive of the simple fact that ABOVE the earth (as well as all the other visible planets) there exist worlds upon worlds and that at the highest summit of Creation there stands the Holy Grail. No human being can ever "see" the Holy Grail, and yet each one of us is so dependent on It that without It we could not exist at all. It is only in the book, which bears the word GRAIL as part of its title ("In the Light of Truth: the Grail Message" by Abd-ru-shin) that we learn about the true significance of the Holy Grail and of the Grail legend.

"At the summit of the eternal Sphere of Spiritual Substantiality stands the Castle of the Grail, spiritually visible and tangible, because it is still of the same species of spiritual substantiality. This Castle of the Grail contains a Sanctuary which lies on the outermost border adjacent to the Divine Sphere, and is thus of still finer consistency than the rest of spiritual substantiality. In this Sanctuary, as a pledge of the eternal Goodness of God the Father, as a symbol of His Purest Divine Love, and the point from which Divine Power issues, stands the Holy Grail!

This is a chalice in which it bubbles and surges unceasingly like red blood without overflowing. Enveloped as it is in the most Luminous Light, it is granted only to the purest of all spirits in the Realm of Spiritual Substantiality to look into this Light! These are the Guardians of the Holy Grail! If it is said in the legends that the purest of men are destined to become Guardians of the Grail, this is a point about which the blessed poet has drawn all too earthly a picture, because he was unable to express himself differently!

No human spirit can enter this holy Sanctuary! Even in its most perfect state of spiritual substantiality, after having returned from its wanderings through the World of Matter, it is still not so fine that it could cross this threshold, i. e., the boundary line! Even in its highest state of perfection it is still too dense to do so!

A still further etherisation would be equivalent to its complete disintegration or combustion, because the origin of its nature does not lend itself to assuming even greater radiance and luminosity, thus becoming still more etherised. It cannot bear it!

The Guardians of the Grail are Eternal Primordial Spiritual Beings, who never were human beings. They are the highest of all in the Realm of Spiritual Substantiality. However, they are in need of Divine Unsubstantiate Power, are dependent upon It, as all else is dependent on Divine Unsubstantiality, the Source of all Power, God the Father!

From time to time on the Day of the Holy Dove, the Dove appears above the Chalice as a renewed token of the unalterable Divine Love of the Father. It is the hour of communion which brings about the renewal of power. The Guardians of the Grail receive it in humble devotion and can then transmit this magic power.

          On this depends the existence of the whole Creation!

It is the moment in which the Love of the Creator radiantly flows forth in the Temple of the Holy Grail, bringing new life and a new urge to create, pulsating downwards and diffusing itself through all the Universe. A trembling and a holy awe, with forebodings of joy and great happiness, vibrate through all the spheres. Only the spirit of earthman still stands aside, without intuitively sensing what is happening particularly to him at that moment; or in what a dull-witted manner he accepts such an immeasurable gift, because the limitations he imposed upon himself through his intellect no longer permit him to grasp such greatness!

     It is the moment when a new supply of vital energy is sent out into the entire Creation!

It is the necessary, ever-recurring ratification of the Covenant between the Creator and His Work! Should this supply ever be cut off, should it ever fail to come, inevitably all that exists would slowly dry up, grow old and disintegrate. The end of all days would then come, and only God Himself would remain, as it was in the very beginning, because He alone is Life!

This process is related in the legend. How everything must grow old and decay if the Day of the Holy Dove, the "uncovering" of the Grail, does not recur is even hinted at in the description of the growing old of the Knights of the Grail, during the time in which Amfortas no longer uncovers the Grail till the hour in which Parsifal appears as King of the Grail.

Man should cease to regard the Holy Grail as only something intangible, for It really exists! The human spirit, however, owing to its nature, can never behold It. But the blessing radiating forth from It, which can be and is being passed on by the Guardians of the Grail, can be absorbed and enjoyed by those human spirits who open themselves to it.

In this sense some of the interpretations cannot be called wrong, as long as they do not try to draw the Holy Grail Itself into their explanations. They are correct, and yet again they are also not correct!

The appearance of the Dove on the special Day of the Holy Dove indicates the sending of the Holy Spirit on each occasion, for this Dove stands in very close connection with the Holy Spirit." (Abd-ru-shin, "IN THE LIGHT OF TRUTH: THE GRAIL MESSAGE", chapter "The Holy Grail" - read the entire chapter or listen to it in MP3 audio.)   

And if we, for once, listen deep within us, we will discover that the mere mention of the word "Grail" sends waves of excitement and expectation through the very core of our being! And the inexpressible longing fills our souls as the sublime images begin to rise before our spiritual eyes: the Grail Castle, the Chalice inside, the knights kneeling before It, the bells, ringing and calling out to us "AWAKE!" Could it be that most of us no longer hear this Call and will wind up like the knights did at the end of Bresson's film: unable to find That, Which Alone can restore them to true life, they end up in a heap of dead bodies in their useless armor? . .
"I think in the whole world things are going very badly. People are becoming more materialist and cruel . . . Cruel by laziness, by indifference, egotism, becuase they only think about themselves and not at all about what is happening around them, so they let everything grow ugly and stupid. They are all interested in money only. Money is becoming their God. God doesn't exist for many. Money is becoming something you must live for. You know, even your astronauts, the first one who put his foot on the moon, said that when he first saw our earth, he said it was something so miraculous, so marvelous, don't spoil it, don't touch it. More deeply I feel the rotten way they are spoiling the earth. All the countries. Silence doesn't exist anymore; you can't find it. That, for me, would make it impossible to live." (Robert Bresson)
 
    Bresson has made several films dealing sympathetically with the suicide of young people (Mouchette; A Gentle Creature; The Devil, Probably.)
"For myself, there is something which makes suicide possible - not even possible but absolutely necessary: it is the vision of the void, the feeling of void which is impossible to bear." (Bresson)
    Since so many young people are now either contemplating or committing suicide, it is essential for us to become clear on this point. While it is undeniable that settling for life such as it has become (with its constant pursuits of money and "pleasures") is an act of definite spiritual weakness, an act of suicide is evidence not of spiritual strength, but of yet another kind of spiritual weakness. It is the giving up of a quest for true purpose in life - a purpose, which can only be defined in spiritual terms and as such is inseparable from the quest for spiritual Knowledge of Creation. The true purpose of human existence is so inexorably linked up with the purpose of Creation at large that one simply cannot be understood without the other. The need for the quest for this Knowledge and the urgency of it tends to be felt, at times, even more acutely by the young. In fact, with a little deeper probing, one discovers that they actually do not want to die at all - they just do not want to live in the same way that they see their parents and everyone else around them living. They see the spiritual void of such an existence - with or without the presence of religion - and cannot but despair at the absence of true meaning in life, such as would be in keeping with their secret ideals.This oppressive reality is portrayed in Bresson's The Devil, Probably in the scene between the psychiatrist and the young man contemplating suicide:
Young man: In losing my life, here's what I'd lose! [He takes out a piece of paper from his pocket and begins to read from it] Family planning. Package holidays, cultural, sporting, linguistic. The cultivated man's library. All sports. How to adopt a child. Parent-Teachers Association. Education. Schooling: 0 to 7 years, 7 to 14 years, 14 to 17 years. Preparation for marriage. Military duties. Europe. Decorations (honorary insignia). The single woman. Sickness: paid. Sickness: unpaid. The successful man. Tax benefits for the elderly. Local rates. Hire-purchase. Radio and television rentals. Credit cards. Home repairs. Index-linking. VAT and the consumer. [He crumples the paper up and throws it with disgust into the fireplace.] . . .
Psychiatrist: Loss of appetite often accompanies severe depression.
Young Man: I'm not depressed. I just want the right to be myself. Not to be forced to give up wanting more . . . to replace true desires with false ones based on statistics . . .
[The pyschiatrist starts on his diagnosis of the young man's condition.]
Psychiatrist: . . . would impede your psychological development and would explain the root of your disgust and your wish to die.
Young Man: But I don't want to die!
Psychiatrist: Of course you do!
Young Man: I hate life. But I hate death, too. I find it appalling.
 
  Unfortunately, the young man goes on to justify his suicide by saying:
". . . if I commit suicide . . . I can't think I'll be condemned for not comprehending the incomprehensible."
 
    Here it is: a different kind of spiritual weakness in evidence. Even if every single person in the world had failed in their quest for Truth, that would still not qualify as a good reason for one individual to give up his personal quest. The simple fact is that it takes much more spiritual strength to pursue one's quest for Truth all alone, in silent defiance of the whole world, than to "check out" by committing suicide.
    Nor can there be any "grace" or "instant salvation" attained through such an act of suicide. No ONE act of any kind is able to result in "instant salvation" for an individual - much less an act of giving up a precious opportunity to mature spiritually through earthly experiences! We all have to learn how to become SPIRITUAL beings and how to live in a sustained state of SPIRITUALITY. And this state of TRUE SPIRITUALITY will not fail us under any circumstances in life, because it will be based not on hopeful belief, but on factual Knowledge of the natural processes working in Creation and their interaction with us. Therefore, this NEW, TRUE state of SPIRITUALITY will bear little resemblance to a state we observe in a young priest in A Diary of a Country Priest. It will also be completely free from that kind of unnatural martyrdom complex (also observed in The Devil, Probably: "He kills himself for a big purpose . . . Yes, to be an example . . . Yes, to be martyred."[Bresson]), but will be a state full of genuine joy attained through a conscious adjustment to all the Natural Processes/Laws of this Creation. Then, such concepts of salvation as "here one moment - in Paradise the next" will be revealed in all their real impoverishment. For what is the purpose of Creation being there, if one could simply jump over It? The fact is that no human being can escape the necessity of having to travel through Creation - and so, quite naturally, everyone must recognize the need to arm himself with the Knowledge of Creation and all the Laws operating in It.
    The time has come for mankind to learn many things about Creation, which have remained as "mysteries" up til now. These concern everything that is most essential to us as human beings: the mystery of birth, the mystery of death, the mystery of fate, the mystery of original sin, the mystery of the interconnections (so-called "luck" or "chance"), the mystery of sex, the mystery of womanhood and of manhood, the mystery of grace, the mystery of the Grail. The opportunity to acquire this New Knowledge is now given to each and every human being (without discrimination of any kind). And far from bringing the disappointment of demystification (associated with earthly knowledge), the New Knowledge opens up before us a breathtaking perspective on the True Mystery of Creation - which, however, comes not from the lack of knowledge about the activities and purpose of Creation, but from the knowing awe one begins to experience once the veils are lifted: the awe at the Sublimity and Naturalness of the Perfect Creator!
 
 
 
 
 
Copyright (c) 2005 Gregory and Maria Pearse