L'Argent (1983)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Drama  |   Run Time - 85 min.  |   Countries - Switzerland , France   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Wheeler Winston Dixon

Robert Bresson's last film, L'Argent is essentially about the ways in which money corrupts the human spirit, and begins with a shot of an ATM machine dispensing cash, an immediate indication that Bresson, though by then an old master, was still entirely in touch with modern civilization and its many mechanisms. Very loosely based on a story by Leo Tolstoy, the film's unrelenting narrative follows the path of a forged 500-franc note, from two schoolboys through a series of fraudulent transactions until, at length, it winds up in the hands of Yvon Targe (Christian Patey), a young worker who spends it at a café, not knowing that it is a forged note. Arrested for passing counterfeit money, Yvon loses his job, turns to crime, and gets arrested again. This time, Yvon goes to prison, and while he is in jail, his daughter dies. Released, Yvon takes to drifting aimlessly through the city, until he finds, at last, an elderly woman who seems to take pity on the lost soul and takes him in, with terrifying consequences. As with all of Bresson's films, L'Argent is superbly photographed, edited with razor-sharp precision, and enacted by a group of nonprofessionals who have been instructed to drain their movements of all emotion. It is the money that Bresson is interested in here, and the lengths to which people will go to obtain it. Bresson's Catholicism is readily apparent in the film, which is nevertheless perhaps the most fatalistic of Bresson's late works, with the implicit message that some harm simply can't be undone, or atoned for. In the film he made several years before L'Argent, Le Diable Probablement (1977), Bresson's fatalism was even more pronounced; authorities feared that the film essentially endorsed teenage suicide, and various attempts were made to suppress the film. L'Argent presents a world that is only superficially less grim, in which even kindness is often repaid with a blow to the head. Compelling, brilliant, and absolutely memorable, L'Argent is one of the key works in Bresson's canon, and absolutely essential viewing for anyone even remotely interested in the history of the cinema.