Lancelot du Lac
DIRECTOR: Robert Bresson | WRITER: Robert Bresson | CAST: Luc Simon, Laura Duke Condominas, Humbert Balsan, Vladimir Antolek-Oresek, Patrick Bernard | France
While watching Lancelot du Lac I kept thinking of Robert Bresson’s desire (apparently expressed in a letter to George Cukor) to hire Burt Lancaster and Natalie Wood for the leads in a movie on the theme of Lancelot and Guinevere that he was planning to make in the early 1960s. Of course Bresson didn’t like working with actors and would exhort his models to do and be, not to act. All too often, unfortunately, some of Bresson’s non-actors tried to act anyway with pretty dismal results. Occasionally, though, Bresson lucked onto a non-actor who, even though he or she was not acting, was alive on screen in an almost unmediated way; that’s the illusion, anyway. So how would two of Hollywood’s most famous stars who could not act have fared when they were pointedly asked not to act? We’ll never know, but I would love to have seen it.
Lancelot du Lac is definitely not a film to everyone’s taste. I can even imagine it’s not to many of Bresson’s fans’ tastes. It is Bresson at his most hieratic and he pushes the stylized artificiality to an almost comical extreme. (And yes, I did laugh during some of it.) The opening scene is likened over and over to the famous scene in Monty Python’s Holy Grail where a knight is shown being dismembered limb by limb and not falling over. It’s almost impossible to believe, but the striking resemblance between the two scenes is apparently purely coincidental. Bresson’s scene is funnier.
Actions (knights fighting each other, a jousting tournament) are shown elliptically and by misdirection. In fact, Lancelot du Lac‘s jousting tournament joins Dominique Sanda’s suicide in Une femme douce and the bank robbery and high speed chase and the multiple murders by ax in L’argent as one of my favorite abstracted, minimalist action sequences ever in film. Not that that category is bursting with examples. The soundtrack is devoid of a musical score but certain sound effects are repeated and repeated: the same horse whinnies the same whinny whenever horses are on screen; a jangling of metal scraps sounds whenever a knight in armor so much as raises his arm. I loved it. Humbert Balsan, the Gawain, joins the ranks of Bresson’s non-actors who is luminous on screen just doing, just being.