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Arthurian Legend Stripped Bare,
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.