Monday, June 30, 2008


A minimalistic style, Robert Bresson makes you feel the power of human soul, human hands, human emotions – repressed emotions, rusting intellect, objectless love – and brings to life Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” on a smaller scale, but as intense as the book. And, in my opinion, also a little frivolous compared to the book.

Michel is the Raskolnikoff: he is the man who thinks he can take law in his hands, since he is “intellectual”, and he can do what he wishes to. He should at least be better than so many others he silently detests. What makes the novel and the film script diverge widely are the acts which Raskolnikoff and Michel commit: while the former commits the murder of an old woman, an usurer, the latter becomes a petty thief, a pickpocket. In the former case, it’s one act against someone taken symbolic for the world’s insensibility, and greed, and power. In the latter case, it’s an obsession against the world itself, and a chain of actions from which the perpetrator finds himself unable to extricate. Raskolnikoff’s redemption lay in the soul, in his being cured of anarchy, of being in love with the people as they are, with himself, with Sonia. Michel’s redemption, to me, lies more in getting the love that he always was hungry for, and which he could have got earlier if not for the fixated obsession. Of course, the book has a strong antithesis in the lawyer who confronts and plays the cat-and-mouse game with Raskolnikoff; while the film seems to have all its sympathies with the anarchist, and in fact has a brilliantly, erotically charged sequence of men being looted on a train, a sequence which I would have expected more in some film rendition of Artful Dodger (“Oliver Twist”) rather than here.

As a film, it stands brilliantly on its own, mainly because of the character played by Martin LaSalle – the brooding, nervous, obsessive character of Michel. The brilliantly choreographed robbery scenes and the vulnerable beauty of Marika Green add to the film, though to what and in which degrees depends on how much you can bear an anarchist interpretation of one of the greatest anti-anarchist arguments by Dostoyevsky. The character of the heroine in the film again leaves a lot desired for – while Marika Green certainly looks the vulnerable working class, she doesn’t look the girl to fire the spark of reform in a man, much less a man whose rot is more moral, more inner, more mental than most whose vices are more picked-up habits, extraneous. I did love the film for its minimal use of dialogues, its quintessential French-ness, and the erotic pleasure with which most scenes are shot (not only the robbery scenes, but also the final scene in the prison between LaSalle and Marika, where once again human hands are the focus). And I equally hated it for the lack of sincerity with which it was made: half-hearted character interpretations of Jacques (Michel’s friend) and the police inspector make serious flaws in the composition of the film.

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