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Charles drifts through politics, religion and psychoanalysis, rejecting them all. Once he realises the depth of his disgust with the moral and physical decline of the society he lives in, he decides that suicide is the only option... Written by
Michael Brooke <email@example.com>
"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."- Robert Bresson
Robert Bresson's The Devil, Probably, is a powerful cry of despair aimed at a world without values. In this 1977 film Charles, (Antoine Monnier) a young man of about twenty, rebels against society's destruction of the planet and arranges his own death as a protest. What does he want? "I ask nothing", he says, " I lay claim to nothing If I did anything, then I'd be useful in a world that disgusts me". Bresson describes his work as "a film about the evils of money, a source of great evil in the world whether for unnecessary armaments or the senseless pollution of the environment." The title comes from a scene on a bus when Charles says to his travelling companion that "Governments are shortsighted," and other passengers join in the discussion. One says not to blame governments, "it's the masses who determine events. Someone asks, "So who is it that makes a mockery of humanity? Who's leading us by the nose?" And the first passenger replies with unmistakable irony, "The Devil, probably," and then the bus crashes amidst the cacophony of honking horns.
The film begins and ends in darkness and light is meager throughout. One is not used to color in a Bresson film but here color is almost non-existent and Paris has never looked colder or bleaker. After an illuminated boat pierces the darkness and drifts along the Seine, two newspaper articles are flashed on the screen. Eliminating any suspense, the newspapers announce the death of a young man in Paris, one article says it is a suicide, the other a murder. We then go back six months. The main protagonist, Charles, joins his friends in a meeting about the environment. All of them watch videos of man polluting the environment and scenes of nuclear destruction. They play bongo drums and talk about religion but to no apparent purpose. Each scene is brief and does not last long enough to involve us emotionally.
Charles looks like a typical College student but has the air of insufferable superiority that can only come through righteousness. Physically, he is slender and quite handsome and one does not expect to see an attractive actor as the lead in a Bresson film. He has a nucleus of friends, Michel, Alberte, Eddwige who are concerned about him but he gives little in return, showing no outward emotion and all seem to move about in a catatonic state. Concerned about where Charles seems to be headed, his friends arrange for him to visit a psychiatrist but he tells Dr. Mime (Regis Hanrion) that his problem is only that he "sees things too clearly". He reads from a crumpled brochure in his pocket, telling the doctor what he would lose if he lost his life: family planning, package holidays, cultural, sporting, linguistic, the cultivated man's library, all sports sickness, credit cards, and so forth. The young man says that he is not depressed, that he just wants "the right to be myself. Not to be forced to give up wanting more . . . to replace true desires with false ones based on statistics". In a moment of humor rare for Bresson, the doctor tells Charles that it if he was spanked as a child it is possibly the cause of his feeling crushed by society and asks him, "When it's over, do you see yourself as a martyr?" The reply: "Only an amateur."
On his way to his ultimate protest, the young man hears the sound of a sublime Mozart piano concerto coming from an open window. He stops to listen as if trying to find the source of grace but is denied. When he sees that the music is only coming from a television set, he continues his journey to its inevitable conclusion. The climax, unlike other Bresson films that engender a feeling of spiritual lightness, left me uninvolved, more depressed than moved. When Charles begins to talk about his lack of sublime feelings, he is stopped suddenly in the middle of a sentence, unable to explain to the world why he thinks he has run out of options. In the end he gets to be right dead right. His death, however voluptuous, does not clean up any toxic waste, save the felling of a single tree, or protect the life of one baby seal.
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