Les anges du péché | Angels of the Streets
DIRECTOR: Robert Bresson | WRITERS: Robert Bresson, Raymond Leopold Bruckberger, Jean Giraudoux | CAST: Renée Faure, Jany Holt, Sylvie, Mila Parély, Marie-Hélène Dasté, Yolande Laffon, Paula Dehelly | France
It’s tempting to read back into Les anges du péché all the themes and whatnot that make Robert Bresson’s films Bressonian, but this really is recognizably his first step in that direction. Les anges du péché is set in a Dominican convent that specializes in prison outreach and the rehabilitation of former prison inmates, often by taking them into the fold as novices. (Parallels between prison/prison life and the convent/convent life are implicit throughout.) The film follows two new novices: an idealistic if showy and naïve young bourgeoise, Anne-Marie, who is as interested in pretty things (herself in the mirror, flowers, outward shows of belief) as she is in the higher mysteries of her faith, and the hard-bitten, framed ex-con, Thérèse, who joins the convent not from religious conviction or a sense of calling but because she needs somewhere to hide from the police. Anne-Marie’s mission in life, explicitly stated as such, is to save Thérèse’s soul; Thérèse, however, believes that the only way to survive in life is to be indifferent. It’s easy to imagine how Bresson would have handled this material later (indeed, this film ends on a note later elaborated on in Pickpocket), but in 1943 he hadn’t yet stripped his style down to the essentials: Les anges du péché is talky and filled with telling quotations from Catherine of Siena and Pascal, the Mother Superior dispenses sage advice, and yes, there are actual actors actually acting. Beautifully shot by the same cinematographer who did Les dames du Bois de Boulogne, but the score is godawful.