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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>
By this point when Robert Bresson was 77 years old (this would be his penultimate feature before retiring after L'Argent in 1983), he basically had zero damns to give. He had his style that can be best described as making the actors so straight-forward but either repressing or draining any full-on emotions. It's not that the people (all, per usual, non-professional players) don't have souls to look at
I have to imagine or hope that Bresson, if he worked today, would
still want the eyes from actual humans and not go for, say, CGI or other processes. It's just that Bresson's de rigeur was getting them to do so many takes that by a certain point it's like 'why try?' But something about The Devil, Probably doesn't quite hit its mark for me as some of his other features.
I think part of it is at the start of the film; though we're given a newspaper clipping - showing the suicide (or was it murder, dun-dun-dun) of a young man named Charles - and then a 'Six Months Earlier' card pops up, it's as if we are plopped right into the middle of the lives of these young people. But because of the not-totally distinctive personalities (they may look slightly distinctive only because this is the 1970's and most of the young men have long hair) it's hard to really get a feel on any one character for the first 15/20 minutes.
We see them go to some political rally and another gathering at a church, though they don't stay long, and a lot of it is exiting and entering places (the foley work of foot-steps, of all things, feels like the thing that most stands out for me, or it was simply distracting in some way I can't fully express why). But who are these people? We finally get to settle in with two male characters and two young women, one of whom, Charles (Monnier), is blonde-haired (kind of a French Kurt Cobain), and he is rather aimless and adrift. He has a girlfriend, Alberte (Irissari), who he might marry, but probably not. From here we see him go to a class here and there to see a lecture on the effects of the bomb, he sees trees being demolished, and he uh... just walks around, possibly thinking about death, not really doing much.
I think a large point of The Devil, Probably, and indeed where the title comes from, is the question of how we can live in a society where calamity and even the apocalypse seem not too far away. The backdrop for these sort-of adrift young people (or at least for Charles) is the constant threat of pollution and the destruction of certain animals (be warned, there's an actual clubbing of a seal shown, not staged, in documentary footage, and a couple of people who are affected by mercury poisoning) and the bomb itself and nuclear issues like plutonium being accessible or something.
The point is, there are some really awful things that make life seem so meaningless, one supposes, and this is the backdrop for Charles to not really give a s*** anymore. Or is it? I think the most effective demonstration is when Charles and his friend Michel are present to see a bunch of trees chopped and falling to the ground. Perhaps this is to say this is death all around, what's the point of anything. But aside from this the pollution-documentary segments feel slightly disconnected from Charles' trajectory, which is gloom and doom. There is some drive to the story as his friends, Alberte especially, want to help him and get him better. Probably the most interesting scene is when Bresson shows Charles being in a conversation with a therapist and we sort of get a sense of where this disillusioned guy's head is at.
But I almost wish this story was in the hands of someone else who could give it some greater emotional feeling. Bresson is the kind of filmmaker who would have an actress cry, but it would be where you see the tears around the eyes or one or two falling down a cheek, but with a placid face and dialog delivered without any outpouring. Maybe that makes it more intense, the holding back, that we the audience can read more into it.
The Devil, Probably does start to get more interesting after the first 15/20 minutes when we can sort of settle into the situations of these characters' lives, how they are smart and intelligent people but in a world that is falling apart without people taking notice (that Devil, Probably line on the bus is an indicator of it). And Bresson is always interesting with the camera as he has a natural way with directing on the technical side. I even get that the film is about seeing "too clearly" in a manner of speaking, that without any sense of, say, the absurd or humor life is an absolute horror and why keep going on and why not do some drugs or wander around.
For me, in this case, unlike some of Bresson's other films, the focus wasn't as clear enough in connecting things until later in the film, and even compared to other leads I didn't find Charles Monnier, quite frankly, that captivating to watch, which is crucial with one of these Bresson non-acting performances (think the young woman in Balthazar or the men in A Man Escaped for comparison).
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