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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bresson's Lancelot
Lancelot du Lac is similar to other films by Bresson. The story is presented very fast and efficient: in the intro we are shown a few shots of knights being killed and horsemen riding through the woods: the knights of the round table are on their way home, decimated and having failed in the quest to find the grail. Also, like other films by Bresson, the scenes are usually...
Published on 19 Sep 2008 by MarkusG

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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Funny?
I am a fan of most of Bressons movies but this is one I could not take too seriously. Some of the scenes with zombie like characters plodding around in armour appear so bizzare to my modern eyes that they make me laugh - was this Bressons intention?
Be prepared to be irritated by this film - if you are not? - all well and good!
Published on 28 Oct 2011 by Paul Pirongs


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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bresson's Lancelot, 19 Sep 2008
By 
MarkusG "Markus" (Stockholm, Sweden) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Lancelot du Lac [DVD] (DVD)
Lancelot du Lac is similar to other films by Bresson. The story is presented very fast and efficient: in the intro we are shown a few shots of knights being killed and horsemen riding through the woods: the knights of the round table are on their way home, decimated and having failed in the quest to find the grail. Also, like other films by Bresson, the scenes are usually in small settings or relayed through close ups: we are not given any grand views of castles (just interiors) or landscapes (trees mostly). And the actors are "models", that is they do not act by expressing emotions that explain their actions and show their personalities - instead dialogue are delivered in a monotone way and feelings are barely expressed. This is not intended to be a "realistic" film, and it is far away from the Hollywood dramas or detailed depictions of the middle ages.

The core of the film is the return of Lancelot and how this causes conflicts between the knights for and against him, and a moral conflict where Lancelot must decide if he's going to take Guinevere away from king Arthur. It gets quite suspenseful and dramatic, despite the lack of special effects. I like how battles are barely shown: in the tournament we see mostly glimpses of lances and knights repeatedly falling to the ground, and other times we are just shown a short glimpse of a knight with blood flowing from the throat.

What I lack in this DVD from AE is extra material (there are none). But considering the excellent transfer and a price under 10GBP it is great value for money anyway. If you're into Bresson or cinema in general, this is a must buy. If you're more into Hollywood films like Robin Hood you may watch this as an interesting alternative way of telling a story.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing, pessimistic tale by Robert Bresson, though not entirely successful, 16 Jun 2007
By 
C. O. DeRiemer (San Antonio, Texas, USA) - See all my reviews
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What to make of this movie? Blood squirts and drips from severed heads and sliced groins like thick cherry juice. Lancelot says "J'taime' to Guinevere with all the passion of a piece of cheese. As in most of Bresson's films, the acting is expressionless, but here it is emotionless. "You are alone in your pride," says Guinevere to Lancelot, while she stares at him without a trace of feeling. "Pride in what is not yours is a falsehood." "I was to bring back the Grail," he tells her. "It was not the Grail," she says, "it was God you all wanted. God is no trophy to bring home. You were all implacable. You killed, pillaged, burned. Then you turned blindly on each other. Now you blame our love for this disaster...I do not ask to love you. Is it my fault I cannot live without you? I do not live for Arthur." Guinevere is austere and relentless. And Lancelot? "Poor Lancelot," one character says, "trying to stand his ground in a shrinking world."

It's been two years since Arthur sent his knights on a quest for the Holy Grail. Now, exhausted, defeated, at odds with each other, their numbers severely reduced by disease and fighting, the remnants have returned. Lancelot saw in a dream that he must renounce his love for Arthur's queen, but Guinevere will have none of that. Mordred lurks in the shadows, hinting and insinuating. Before long, the knights have chosen sides. A few will stand with Lancelot in defense of Guinevere. The rest will stand...not with Arthur, but with Mordred.

Bresson has taken the Arthurian legend and turned it into a tale of hopeless pessimism. If you don't care for spoilers, read no further. How hopeless? Nearly everyone dies except Guinevere. There is no Robert Goulet in paper mache armor singing "If Ever I Should Leave You," no Nicol Williamson urging Arthur to do the right thing. It's difficult to say who is the more pig-headed...Guinevere for adamantly refusing to release Lancelot from his vows of love, or Lancelot later deciding that love is all. By the time they realize that Guinevere must return to Arthur, it's far too late.

The legend of Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot, and of Mordred and Gawain, is emotional and powerful. Bresson takes it and squeezes it down until it is nearly wrung dry. Loyalties are as much based on self-interest and delusion as on true fealty. Love is as selfish as it is consuming. There's no room for hope, or even noble tragedy, in Bresson's version of the myth. Making the movie even more difficult to access is the Bresson style. Even in the most charged moments, the characters speak in a monotone. Bresson's penchant for amateurs and a flat style of delivery can work wonders in some of his movies (just look at Au Hasard Balthazar), but here everything is just flat. The photography is fascinating -- particularly the tournament sequence; all close-ups of the sides of galloping horses, just the legs of the knights, the sound of lances crashing into armor -- but it also is self-conscious. More than once I caught myself thinking, "Wow, this shot is sure pure Bresson." That may do much for cineastes appreciating an auteur director; I'm not sure it does much, in this case, to advance the emotions of the story. And yet, the film picks up a lot of steam. The last half hour is a beautiful, powerful picture of pointlessness. Mordred and his followers are going to usurp Arthur. Lancelot and his followers will ride for Arthur. And we see a shot of a riderless horse galloping through the forest, then a cut to a knight on the ground bleeding to death, then yeoman in trees firing arrows, then the sequence again, and again, and again. No music, just the twang of arrows, the sound of hooves, the muted clanking of armor. And then we see a pile of dead and dying knights. There's no winsome little boy to carry the tale of Camelot this time.

On balance, I enjoyed the pessimism, the rhythm of the movie and some of the sequences. The film is worth seeing, but I just don't think this is one of Bresson's successes. The DVD has a fairly good film transfer. There are no extras.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sombre and very good, 2 April 2005
This is a sombre version of the Arthurian legend, and in my view very much in tone with Thomas Malory's 15th century version. The latter is dark and foreboding, and so is this film. The deeds of arms of the knights are represented in terms that undermine the ideals of chivalry. There is only death, blood and severed body parts everywhere. The heap of bodies on which the last shot of the film focuses is the climax of this violence.
At the centre of this film stands the love between Guinevere and Lancelot, sublimely represented in the film: Guinevere waits for Lancelot's return in silence, and suffers for her love of him. Lancelot has come to the point where he tries to resist this love, for the sake of chivalry, but it is interesting to see the way in which he fails in his attempt to relinquish Guinevere.
I dare say this film is essential for anyone seriously interested in the Arthurian legend, and for anyone who has a clear understanding that the latter is not romance Hollywood style, but much darker. This is definitely not a film for everyone. There is a lot of blood and violence in the film, its atmosphere is dark, the dialogue is designedly monotonous, to match the sombre mood of the film, and there is no musical score throughout, except a very little in the beginning and end. It is exquisite in that it tells the story of a great love, accompanied by great suffering, and in that it demystifies any romantic notions we might have had about Arthur and his knights, as seen in other films of the genre. The austerity of the interiors also does away with our romantic illusions.
The acting is amazing, and I identified with the actor playing Guinevere in particular. The last scene of the movie, in which Lancelot, dying, says only one word: "Guinevre" (French version of Guinevere), stays with the viewer forever.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A cold ascetic look at the Arthurian legend, 16 May 2011
By 
The CinemaScope Cat - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Lancelot du Lac [DVD] (DVD)
Set after the failure of the quest for the Holy Grail, the surviving knights of Arthur's legendary round table, return in defeat to their King. The Arthurian legend of the Knights Of The Round Table is given an austere, stripped down exercise in asceticism from director Robert Bresson (DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST). Clearly not interested in the romanticism of the legend, Bresson uses amateur actors (and it shows) who say lines rather than act. Passion, a strong component in the Lancelot and Guinevere portion of the legend, is totally absent. Their fate, as well as everyone around them, is preordained yet they still fight against the inevitable. Even the jousting tournaments are shown in fragments with no tension or excitement. This lacklustre approach, while cerebreally intriguing, makes for a rather sterile film. Bresson introduces characters in pieces. They enter a frame by their legs, their shoulders, their backs as if their faces were irrelevant. Bresson amplifies the sound so that the clanking of their armor sounds like thunder and the neighing of a horse in the distance (repeated so often that it almost becomes a joke) sounds like a scream. The score, what there is of it, is by Philippe Sarde. While I can admire Bresson's intentions (beautifully photographed by Pasqualino De Santis), it's a cold, cold piece of work.

The British import courtesy of Artificial Eye is an excellent anamorphic 1.66 transfer.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bresson's extraordinary take on Arthurian legend, 4 July 2014
This review is from: Lancelot du Lac [DVD] (DVD)
Lancelot du Lac (1974) was Robert Bresson's 11th feature film and only his third in color. Though it came out to almost universal critical acclaim, it is now one of his most under-appreciated works which people rarely make reference to when talking or writing about the director. Still, at least we can still see the film properly courtesy of this excellent Artificial Eye release. That's more than can be said of his stunning first feature Les Anges du Péchés (1943) and his first two color films, Une femme douce (1969) and Quatre nuits d'un rêveur (1971). All three are in desperate need of being released on DVD - does anyone know why they now seem to be available only on YouTube? At any rate, Lancelot du Lac is for me a masterpiece. It completely achieves what it sets out to do and although it is icy cold when set beside acknowledged masterworks like Pickpocket (1959) and Au hasard Balthazar (1966), its intellectual rigor is equally as impressive and the total effect is as profound as you are ever likely to get in the cinema.

At first glance Arthurian legend as related by the 12th century French poet Chrétien de Troyes may seem an unlikely choice of material for Bresson. His films are usually routed in contemporary France even if the literary sources (Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Diderot, Bernanos) are not. To date his only period film had been Le Procès de Jeanne d'Arc (1962), and that had been firmly based on historical fact even down to utilizing the transcript from the victim's trial as the screenplay. Nobody expected the austere iconoclastic French director to veer into Camelot (1967) territory. And yet look closely and we see that Lancelot du Lac is as Bressonian as any of his preceding films.

Put basically, Bresson's concern was always with the basic metaphysics underpinning the human condition - the reasons we live, the factors that propel human life from birth to death and beyond. As I have outlined in my other Bresson reviews his aesthetic is informed by Catholicism, in his case the peculiar French strain of predestinarian Jansenism. In a Bresson film protagonists function in any given narrative to fulfill whatever has been predestined for them to fulfill. They have no free will of their own and usually the film charts a journey which becomes in effect an unknowing search for spiritual redemption, for grace. Conventional character psychology has no place in a Bresson work - it doesn't matter what happens between life and death, the result will be the same - such is the nature of predestination. Throughout the protagonists will be `acted on' from on high as they are guided towards their fate.

In all of Bresson's b/w films up until Mouchette (1967), grace is always found. The protagonists may suffer greatly, but through good means or foul they always achieve a state of redemption. From Une femme douce onwards however, though the characters are acted on from on high and are still fulfilling their already decided destiny, grace is withdrawn and the protagonists finish in a kind of nihilistic abyss. It is as if Bresson withdraws any hope he ever had for the improvement of mankind as he demonstrates with a ruthless intellectual rigor how man has created his own fall. This is precisely what Lancelot du Lac is all about.

The narrative structure of the film is split into three clearly identifiable acts. The first sees the knights of the round table return to Camelot from Brittany where they have been searching for the Holy Grail. Their search has been fruitless and they return in disarray, 70 of the 100 knights having died in the process. The most senior knight is Lancelot (Luc Simon) who returns to the arms of Queen Guinevere (Laura Duke Condominas). At first he attempts to stop their affair. It is conflicting with his knightly code of honor consisting of his loyalty to Guinevere's husband King Arthur (Vladimir Antolek-Oresek). However, he is persuaded by the Queen to continue. The `affair' is observed from afar by the other knights who split according to their allegiances. Gawain (Humbert Balsan) and his followers take the side of Lancelot while Mordred (Patrick Bernhard) and his legion take up the King's honor. Act Two consists entirely of a jousting competition between rival knights in which Lancelot says he will participate, but which he actually uses as a diversion to have a tryst with the Queen. One knight dominates the contest. Gawain thinks it is Lancelot after all, but nobody is quite sure. Act Three charts the final split between the knights and how King Arthur, Lancelot and his supporters are ambushed by Mordred's archers in the forest. The film ends with all the knights slaughtered, piled on each other in their armor to resemble a trash heap.

Bresson lays his cards on the table right at the beginning of the film with his depiction of the knights in disarray. They wreak havoc on innocent people as churches are ransacked and homes are destroyed. For knights searching for the Holy Grail, their behavior is distinctly un-Christian. They show no brotherly love of man for fellow man and as the first part of the film continues Bresson depicts the knights as an aloof sect, living apart in their lofty castles not concerned at all with the subjects they are supposed to be looking after. There is a brief sequence towards the end of the first part where Lancelot advances towards a crucifix which is blurred just off-center of frame as he addresses it: "Lord, do not forsake us. Do not forsake me. I struggle against a death worse than death. Deliver me from a temptation I can hardly resist". But it is not a question of the Lord abandoning him and the other knights. Actually it is they who have abandoned the Lord. By treating the Holy Grail as a prize to be won in some knightly show of strength, by showing loyalty only to themselves and to their own senses of pride, and (in Lancelot's case) by knowingly committing adultery with the Queen of the land so that the land itself dies, the knights turn their backs on God and any values that can be called `Christian'. In this way, they engineer their own final demise.

Rather than Christian values, it is the chivalric code of knightly honor which the knights rigorously adhere to. Bresson demonstrates this code to be empty and meaningless. This is the point of the central jousting competition. Why are these knights attempting to knock each other off their horses with sticks? What is the relevance of this to anything other than a massaging of pride and an attempt to alleviate the boredom of an irrelevant life in a forest? Bresson underlines the pointlessness of it all by his unique way of shooting the sequence, the camera pointing at horses' bodies and parts of the contestants' armor as one by one they bight the dust. We never see who is fighting who, the armor preserving their anonymity and indeed throughout the film Bresson clearly highlights the clunking and the clanking of the armor as the knights strut around Camelot ridiculously still wearing it even when they don't have to. The armor becomes a badge of their irreligious anti-Christian moral code which has complete irrelevance to anyone except themselves. Note the final slaughter where Bresson has the knights one by one pull down their visors before riding into their destruction. They are not people so much as articulators of a corrupt bad code of misplaced honor which is fully worthy of destruction. Thus the final image of the suits of armor piled on top of each other to resemble a trash heap is Bresson's indignant and entirely logical response to a sad and sorry state of existence.

Now, you may say what does all this have to do with the human condition especially in the 20th century? Well, the Arthurian legend is a myth and like all myths, it conveys universal truisms which remain constant down through the ages. The search for the Holy Grail is acknowledged as a metaphor for the search for redemption, a search for true faith which we spend our lives pursuing. It is of course especially relevant for Catholics as the grail was the cup held by Joseph of Arimathea which supposedly captured the blood of Jesus Christ as he lay dying on the cross. The cup was later adopted by Catholics for the Holy Communion celebration of the Eucharist. This of course stays relevant to this day. In Lancelot du Lac Bresson is very careful to demonstrate the way the knights violate the 7 Catholic virtues (chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness and humility) in favor of the 7 deadly sins (lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride) in the way they go about their business and the story of their demise conveys in microcosm the very same impurities which undermine the human condition to this day. In Au hasard Balthazar and Mouchette Bresson has his main characters negotiate the 7 Stations of the Cross in their life journey which relate the very same impurities. Those films were contemporary and are more obviously relevant, but just because Lancelot du Lac is set in an ancient pre-historical era, it doesn't make the central truisms spelt out in the myth any less so. In fact the film is every bit as Bressonian in theme as the rest of his work.

Visually of course, the film is unmistakably 100% Bresson. He employs a new cinematographer in Pasqualino De Santis, but one would never know it. The mise-en-scène remains typically grey, dreary and determinedly unspectacular despite its color presentation. Where battles, the joust and the trysts between Lancelot and Guinevere could have provided for some rip-roaring violent rumpy-pumpy à la Excalibur (1981, John Boorman), Bresson predictably stylizes the violence which is anything but realistic, ignores the crowds of the jousting contest (heard not seen), employs his usual amateur models to `act' expressionless throughout, and points his camera at spaces into which characters move to underline the predetermined fate they are moving towards, focusing on body parts and equipment instead of adhering to the customary Hollywood full-spectacle approach. In this way Bresson forces us to focus on the ideas underlying the narrative rather than the narrative itself, something which is rendered very elliptical especially towards the end. For those not used to Bresson this approach might seem eccentric, bizarre and off-putting, but trust me when I say there is method in his madness. The film demonstrates with crystalline clarity how the pursuit of non-Christian codes and values ends in a nihilistic abyss. This is very fitting for a director whose next film (The Devil Probably [1977]) demonstrates the effects the same neglect of Christian values will have on contemporary France. Both films are equally as bleak and uncompromising about the human condition. Not everyone will buy into this nihilism, but the films (especially Lancelot du Lac) are extraordinary for their beauty and the way Bresson matches theme with presentation to an amazingly precise degree.

As I alluded to earlier this AE release is excellent. It is given in the original aspect ratio (16:9 - 1.66:1) with Dolby digital mono sound. There are no extras which is a disappointment. The film is short (81 minutes) and surely an informed documentary could have been added or even a scholarly commentary. Never mind, like all Bresson this is a film which should be seen.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No Camelot, but much to Likealot, 29 Mar 2009
By 
W. Hamilton (Sydney, Australia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Lancelot du Lac [DVD] (DVD)
Bresson and Knights of the Round Table? Wait a minute, am I imaging things? As improbable as it seems for this director to take on such a subject, what he does with it is no departure at all from the style and tastes we have come to expect from his other films. This is no Camelot. The opening sequence clears up any doubts the viewer might have about that. In a sparse and mannered treatment of the familiar story, Bresson obtains some wonderful performances and - most especially - conjures a world of values, attitudes and temperaments completely pre-modern; a world we enter and leave with him but could never mistake for our own. Anachronisms abound in most tellings of the Arthurian legends - even Malory's - and yet Bresson seems capable of transcending the challenge with none of the overwrought spectacle and emphasis on period details that films usually employ to coax submission from the audience to their "idea" of verisimilitude.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Arthurian Legend Stripped Bare, 9 Dec 2013
This review is from: Lancelot du Lac [DVD] (DVD)
With this 1974 stripped-down tale of Arthurian knight, Sir Lancelot (du Lac), Robert Bresson casts his inimitable spell (pretty much literally) over the subject, in the process telling what is (for him) a relatively straightforward story of love, loyalty, betrayal and fate (but overlaid with much symbolism). And whilst, Lancelot Du Lac does not, for me at least, form quite the impressively coherent whole of films such as Pickpocket, A Man Escaped or Au Hazard Balthazar, it still has much to commend it, being (in particular) a visually stunning and innovative work (in keeping with the rest of Bresson's films).

Of course, in trademark fashion, the first 'hurdle' to get over, is Bresson's penchant for casting first-time actors, coaxed into minimalist delivery, as Luc Simon's Lancelot returns (empty-handed) from his quest for the Holy Grail (with force depleted) to rekindle his (treasonous) affair with Laura Duke Condominas' Guinevere, whilst juggling the contempt of Patrick Bernhard's plotting Mordred and the devoted loyalty of Arthur's nephew, Gawain (Humbert Balsan - who does most of the impressive 'acting' here)). Thereafter, Bresson's tale is (narratively) relatively conventional as loyalties are tested, devoted love expressed and murderous plots hatched, but it is (of course) what's going on visually (and symbolically) that raises Bresson's film above the mundane.

From a start with stylised violence (severed limbs spurting blood a la Monty Python and the Holy Grail), cinematographer Pasqualino de Santis settles down to provide us with some typically Bressonian part-body shots (both human and horse), some stunning colour for the montages of ritualistic visor-closing, horse-mounting, sword-sheathing, etc, as well as the spectacular jousting tournament as Lancelot competes 'incognito' in order to teach Mordred and his fellow conspirators a lesson. Bresson also sets up a spiritualism vs. nature angle, as Arthur questions the knights' quest ('Have we provoked God?'), whilst the unsettling (and fractious) atmosphere is accentuated by horses whinnying (and staring with fearful eyes) and omens of a lone magpie's cackling and a raven soaring (over slaughtered knights' bodies).

Bresson has also devised an impressive closing sequence, continuing the practice (with one or two exceptions) of merely hinting at the bloody violence that is the knights' 'trade', as a trickle of riderless horses return from Lancelot and cohorts' final attempt to seal victory. For me, not absolutely top-drawer Bresson, but Lancelot Du Lac is nevertheless a stunning visual work, containing serious philosophical themes and moments of powerful drama.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sombre and very good, 4 April 2005
This is a sombre version of the Arthurian legend, and in my view very much in tone with Thomas Malory's 15th century version. The latter is dark and foreboding, and so is this film. The deeds of arms of the knights are represented in terms that undermine the ideals of chivalry. There is only death, blood and severed body parts everywhere. The heap of bodies on which the last shot of the film focuses is the climax of this violence.
At the centre of this film stands the love between Guinevere and Lancelot, sublimely represented in the film: Guinevere waits for Lancelot's return in silence, and suffers for her love of him. Lancelot has come to the point where he tries to resist this love, for the sake of chivalry, but it is interesting to see the way in which he fails in his attempt to relinquish Guinevere.
I dare say this film is essential for anyone seriously interested in the Arthurian legend, and for anyone who has a clear understanding that the latter is not romance Hollywood style, but much darker. This is definitely not a film for everyone. There is a lot of blood and violence in the film, its atmosphere is dark, the dialogue is designedly monotonous, to match the sombre mood of the film, and there is no musical score throughout, except a very little in the beginning and end. It is exquisite in that it tells the story of a great love, accompanied by great suffering, and in that it demystifies any romantic notions we might have had about Arthur and his knights, as seen in other films of the genre. The austerity of the interiors also does away with our romantic illusions.
The acting is amazing, and I identified with the actor playing Guinevere in particular. The last scene of the movie, in which Lancelot, dying, says only one word: "Guinevre" (French version of Guinevere), stays with the viewer forever.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Funny?, 28 Oct 2011
By 
Paul Pirongs (westcliff on sea, essex, u k) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Lancelot Du Lac [VHS] (VHS Tape)
I am a fan of most of Bressons movies but this is one I could not take too seriously. Some of the scenes with zombie like characters plodding around in armour appear so bizzare to my modern eyes that they make me laugh - was this Bressons intention?
Be prepared to be irritated by this film - if you are not? - all well and good!
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8 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nihilistic and dull, 10 Feb 2011
By 
Ian Armer (Lancashire, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Lancelot du Lac [DVD] (DVD)
I've nothing against nihilism in movies, but dull movies like this - and I know I'm in a minority here, click 'review unhelpful' away! - with lashings of nihilism make this a slog and a half to get through.

Yes, it's very clever that Bresson takes the romance of Arthurian legend and transforms it into a bleak, miserable exercise in futility, but sadly it's not something with much point. As a work of art it is, at best, simple and as a story, meandering and ultimately boring. It's a very very boring art house film. There, I said it. It won awards, however, and was directed by Robert Bresson so, obviously, I'm a know-nothing heathen and everybody else is is right.
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