The Devil, Probably
1977, NR, 95 min. Directed by Robert Bresson. Starring Antoine Monnier, Tina Irissari, Henri De Maublanc, Laetitia Carcano, Regis Hanrion, Nicolas Deguy.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 28, 1995
French filmmaker Robert Bresson is like no other. This is a fact; not idle flattery. His ascetic and spiritually-minded films fit no definable category or school of filmmaking. He makes movies slowly and deliberately, directing a mere 13 features since 1943. The Devil, Probably, which he made in 1977 at the age of 70, is his 12th. Despite the admiration and praise heaped on him by film cognoscenti and director/critics such as Paul Schrader and Francois Truffaut, The Devil, Probably has, until now, been screened only once on American soil - at the 1977 New York Film Festival. Thus, this largely unseen movie has been treated here with the same reverence usually due great “lost” films. Unfortunately, though nearly 20 years have passed since its completion, I fear the movie has not aged well. The Bresson fanatics are certain to disagree with me but I think they will generally concur that The Devil, Probably is hardly amongst his best work. (For me, some of those include Pickpocket, A Man Escaped, Au Hasard Balthazar, and, perhaps, Lancelot of the Lake.) Bresson almost always cast non-actors in his films and stayed true to form with The Devil, Probably. The movie begins with the discovery of a dead body with a bullet in its head in Père Lachaise cemetery. The rest of the movie is one extended flashback to the months that preceded this 20-year-old man's death. The newspapers speculate about whether it is suicide, murder, or a political gesture. The dead man, Charles (Monnier) is a young Parisian who leaves his left-wing student group and grows increasingly disenchanted and despairing. He's tangled up politically and emotionally with three friends. Michel (de Maublanc) is an environmental activist whose girlfriend Alberte (Irissari) leaves him to live with Charles, who she feels needs her more. Also, there is Edwige (Carcano), who is also fond of Charles. They are all young, healthy, and beautiful but see themselves surrounded by modern decay and destruction. Having given up on politics, Charles tries to find love through his friends. Still searching for uplift, Charles tries religion, psychoanalysis, drugs, and music. Each attempt brings him closer to suicide. The film seems very bleak and, seemingly, supports the theory that youth is wasted on the young. Bresson suggests that this disgust with oneself and one's world can only be alleviated by beauty. These sentiments are indicative of a particular time and place: Paris in the Seventies, recouping after the political turbulence of the Sixties. These characters are the twentysomethings of their time but the resonance does not sustain itself through the decades. When coupled with the bleak overall tone, The Devil, Probably functions best as a rich, historical relic.