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Heinz Bütler interviews Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) late in life. Cartier-Bresson pulls out photographs, comments briefly, and holds them up to Bütler's camera. A few others share observations, including Isabelle Huppert, Arthur Miller, and Josef Koudelka. Cartier-Bresson talks about his travels, including Mexico in the 1930s, imprisonment during World War II, being with Gandhi moments before his assassination, and returning to sketching late in life. He shows us examples. He talks about becoming and being a photographer, about composition, and about some of his secrets to capture the moment. Written by
A presentation of the master photographer's wondrous work, hosted by Cartier-Bresson himself, filmed probably no more than a year or two before his death in 2004, just short of his 96th birthday.
His life was long and rich. Trained as a painter, he became fascinated with and devoted to the camera in his early 20s, though he always tended to dismiss those who applied the term "art" to his pictures, maintaining that they were just gut reactions to moments he happened upon. (His advice to other photographers sounds more like a tip for assassins: "aim well, shoot fast, and scram.") In 1936 he became second assistant in the studio of Jean Renoir, who insisted that he also act in Renoir's films, in order to experience being on the other side of the camera (he played a butler in Renoir's 1939 classic, "Rules of the Game," and also had a bit part in the 1936 film, "A Day in the Country").
He worked for the Underground and hid from the Nazis during the French occupation, an experience that contributed to his "ferocious shyness" - to use one biographer's term - in the years that followed. In 1947 he was a co-founder of the great independent photojournalism cooperative, Magnum, along with Robert Capa. Late in his life, he returned to drawing, and he shows us some marvelous human figures.
This film features unexpected talking heads, Isabelle Huppert and Arthur Miller, along with various photographers, in addition to segments of a long interview in French with M. Cartier-Bresson himself. Rather than subtitles, a voice-over English translation is superimposed on the sounds of Cartier-Bresson's voice, like a UN Conference broadcast. This is at first annoying, but one gets used to it. And there was little choice. Subtitles would have intruded visually on the excellent shots of the photos, which often fill the screen, and that would have been more intrusive yet.
At least 100 photos are displayed, and it is a nice touch that the location and date for each are given briefly, then faded out. Every photo seems a masterpiece of form, and of humanity on the move. Such was Cartier-Bresson's skill in seizing the moment, the split second that is right for the shot, the one almost gets the sense that people are moving in his photos. There is a piano soundtrack. The photographer's head nods to the music, so we know that he is listening along with us, and that too is a splendid nuance. My grade: B+ 8/10.
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