Country: France, Switzerland
Language: French, Latin
Genre: Crime, Drama
Director/Writer: Robert Bresson
based on Leo Tolstoy’s short story
Pasqualino De Santis
Sylvie Van den Elsen
Marc Ernest Fourneau
A Venice screening of Bresson’s restored final feature, L’ARGENT, based on Tolstoy’s short story THE FORGED COUPON, a BEST DIRECTOR winner in Cannes (an honor shared with Andrei Tarkovsky’s NOSTALGIA, 1983), it is a rigidly modulated allegory delineates the shocking derailment of a man’s moral compass with a provocative tail end.
Injustice somberly unravels when Yvon (Patey), a young worker for the gas company, is unwittingly subjected to the receiving end of a counterfeit 500-franc note, which has been circulated from two schoolboys to a photography shop. After being caught using the note, Yvon’s normal life starts succumbing to a downward spiral, it would firstly cost his job, then send him to jail as an accomplice of an ill-fated bank robbery, until his young daughter dies when he is locked up and his wife leaves for him to start anew. The tragedy couldn’t be more harrowing to a working-class young man, but in Bresson’s execution, which the whole feature is almost exclusively shot with a stationary camera, he unerringly fabricates a world of apathy enshrouding a brooding Paris, no off-hand “bonjour” among strangers or family members, attenuated by an almost robotic acting method from his amateur cast, what is projected upon us is a circle of mundane dishonesty and aloofness borne purely out of self-interest, where money, is the only currency that matters, certainly Yvon learns that in a hard way.
So, after Yvon finishing serving his time, the only thing on his mind is to wreak revenge to this morally corrupt society with double even treble cruelty, homicide and theft impassively conducted. Ultimately, he perversely exacts his chilling last act of vengeance to a gray-haired woman (Van den Elsen), who is benevolent enough to take him in even after realizing what he had done, and her family, sending up Bresson’s flaunting condemnation of the consequences when morality is lost, it also means the doom of humanity.
Somewhat hard to swallow for its blatant savagery and waywardly defiant in its characterization and story-telling, L’ARGENT has been pristinely revived with its original luster to be appraised by new audience. At any rate, it strongly attests that Bresson had always been an unmitigated provocateur, from his budding career in 1940s, to his swan song four decades later, who had left a profound imprint on this art form with sheer consistency sans compromising his auteurist fidelity.