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Lancelot du Lac (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on March 21, 2014

I’ve rounded up seven Bresson films for a second-time viewing.  I thought about going through them chronologically, but I decided to start with this one because I felt I owed it a new look the most out of all of them (though Diary of a Country Priest is a close second).  I have said several times that I’m not proud of my early reviews.  I keep them on my blog only because something in me can’t bear to throw them away.  But many of them are painful for me to read.  My first review of this film — written over 10 years ago — is particularly embarrassing.  In the previous two weeks I had seen (and enjoyed) my first two Bressons: Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne and A Man Escaped.  So I was not entirely new to the director but I was still pretty fresh and not yet accustomed to his unique style of filmmaking.  I gave Lancelot a brutal score of 2 out of 10, and my “review” mostly consisted of a silly rant about his use of non-actors.

Now, of course, I know much more about Bresson’s approach to acting… I understand him better and appreciate the effects better.  The blank performances pare the story down to its essence, and allow the viewer to project his own emotions without having them dictated to him.  And in this story, the “wooden” acting serves an extra purpose: to take all the glamour out of these medieval tales.  The violence feels far more brutal when stripped of all sense of romance or nobility.  Deaths are senseless, the results of doubtful quests and petty rivalries.  This is not a fairy tale about gallant knights and wicked villains.  It’s a bunch of guys who don’t really know what they’re doing.

The film is also shot very nicely, and edited beautifully.  Bresson’s attention to process and use of repetition are especially masterful in the tournament scene.  There is a very deliberate rhythm which relies on a specific set of repetitions.  It’s the variations in the repetitions that drive the sequence towards a conclusion, which comes in a set of three shortened versions of the repetition.  What I know about editing could fit comfortably on an index card, but if I was taking a class on the subject, I’d want this scene to be part of the curriculum.

In that earlier review, I accused the movie of being “boring” and “pointless”.  I was not bored this time.  Perhaps this was because I felt more invested in getting something out of it, but I truly was pretty into it.  However, it did often confuse me and I’m not so ready to retract the “pointless” charge.  It’s difficult to discern what Bresson is getting at.  I don’t think he’s interested only in de-romanticizing the Arthurian myth, but other meanings are elusive and fleeting.  I found the Lancelot/Guinevere dynamic to be more amusing than anything… she seems to be toying with him, manipulating his allegiances.  The spiritual content — often a major theme in Bresson’s work — is foggy and hard to latch onto.  However, I was keenly affected by the several shots of horses’ eyes, these long-suffering observers — and sometimes victims — of human folly.  Echoes of Balthazar, perhaps.

I’m glad to be able to right a past wrong.  While I still consider it one of my least favorites by Bresson, there are some fascinating elements to it and it deserves more than the snotty dismissal I gave it the first time around.  Rating: Good (70)

IMDb
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