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With: Christian Patey, Caroline Lang, Sylvie van den Elsen, Michel Briguet
Written by: Robert Bresson, based on a story by Leo Tolstoy
Directed by: Robert Bresson
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 81
Date: 05/18/1983

L'Argent (1983)

4 Stars (out of 4)

The Root of All Evil

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

L'Argent (1983) was final film of the great Robert Bresson. Based loosely on a story by Leo Tolstoy, this masterpiece begins by following a forged bank note. The upper-class perpetrators pass it in a Paris shop and get away with it, while the innocent Yvon (Christian Patey) takes the blame and winds up on a path to crime and self-destruction. Strangely, the angry Yvon is the most human character in the film, the one least corrupted by money.

Many believe that Bresson grew more difficult and pessimistic toward the end of his career, as he transitioned into color films and began working with younger actors. But L'Argent has moments of great beauty. As many others have pointed out, it does not feel like the work of a man in his 80s.

I had the chance to see L'Argent a second time on New Yorker's excellent 2005 DVD, and I liked it even more. It sometimes takes a bit of extra work to get used to Bresson's unique presentation, with the actors stripped of all excess emotion, moving and speaking almost robotically. As critic Kent Jones says on the commentary track, these performances are meant to suggest and represent certain behaviors, even if we don't see them acted out verbatim. Jones's knowledgable yet humble commentary track is very informative and does not use that lecturer's drone that can get so boring so quickly.

Other extras include two interviews with Bresson, one six minutes and the other 12 minutes, both from the 1983 Cannes Film Festival. Writer Marguerite Duras (Hiroshima Mon Amour) speaks about her adoration for Bresson (for only about 90 seconds), and there's a 30-second theatrical trailer that almost entirely misses the point of the film. English subtitles are optional.

In 2017, the Criterion Collection released a Blu-ray edition with a fine transfer, with natural-looking film grain and a bright, sharp soundtrack. Sadly, it does not include any of the extras from the New Yorker disc, but it does include a 30-minute press conference from the Cannes Film Festival, as well as a new video essay by James Quandt. The thick liner notes booklet includes an essay by Adrian Martin and a 1983 interview with director Robert Bresson by critic Michel Cement.

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