(1983, Robert Bresson)
“You have me on your conscience. You have to answer for that now.”
A little while ago, I reviewed a little-known movie called A Man Escaped from French director Robert Bresson. I surprisingly enjoyed it, expecting a drab musing on the Second World War and instead getting a suspenseful prison break movie where every scene was so dripping with tension I needed a towel afterwards.
As such, I was a little more interested in L’Argent (aka Money) than I initially would have been. This time I was expecting another tense thriller. Did Bresson still have it twenty years on, or was this all a big disappointment?
The plot covers a lot of ground. Two boys forge a 500-franc note, spend it at a shop, and then the shop owners try and pass it off onto a poor, unsuspecting maintenance man named Yvon. Yvon gets arrested, the shop’s assistant tries to rob his employers and the boys try and avoid being found out by parents and their school.
Basically, it’s a bit of everything, and this is the movie’s central problem. There’s nothing to anchor these myriad plot points besides a counterfeit note that we only see briefly. Watching this movie is a little confusing at times, presenting us a story about two boys trying to pass off fake money and scam their town, then suddenly becoming about a shop and then about a maintenance man. It’s as if the movie spends its opening scenes trying to decide who it wants to be its protagonist before finally settling down, and even then it has a tendency to get distracted.
And that’s the problem. It’s hard to say what L’Argent is actually about. Counterfeit money? Shopkeepers with questionable morals? A down-on-his-luck labourer? It’s seemingly about all of these things and none of them at the same time. There’s no main plot spiced up with subplots, it’s a series of subplots and little else.
As such, it becomes a little hard to connect with Yvon. He’s introduced so late and his introduction makes him feel like an extra, leading to bafflement when the camera stays on him for an extended period. His arc also gets a little silly, with increasingly worse things happening to him until he decides SCREW IT I’m gonna murder up the place now. Yes, murder. A plot point that comes so out of left field I wondered if I’d skipped a few scenes.
It doesn’t help that much of the movie plods along thanks to Bresson’s insistence on using untrained amateur actors dragged in from off the street. While this failed to hinder A Man Escaped, it affects L’Argent so much due to everyone feeling so stony and unemotional. Much of the performances feel like someone lazily reading off a script, which they most likely were in reality, but generally audiences want to see something vaguely more enthusiastic than that.
In fact, L’Argent has such flat acting that it manages to make a desperate suicide attempt feel mundane. And following this sequence, the movie kind of drags to a halt until the murdering starts happening. It’s a bizarrely-plotted mess.
The central message of the movie does seem to be that money is bad and capitalism is evil. I managed to take that away from it, but only just. I think the murdering did that, but again, this message wafts by so nonchalantly until the blood starts splattering that it’s almost an afterthought, as if Bresson realised he needed the movie to have an actual point, and just pulled a vague moral from a Tolstoy short story to make do.
After A Man Escaped, I expected a lot more from L’Argent. I wanted more than this drab, confused movie that doesn’t know what its own purpose is. A disappointment, then? Sadly yes.
Starring Christian Patey, Beatrice Tabourin, Didier Baussy & Vincent Visterucci
Written by Leo Tolstoy (novella – The Forged Coupon) and Robert Bresson
Produced by Jean-Marc Henchoz & Daniel Toscan du Plantier
Cinematography by Pasquilano De Santis & Emmanuel Machuel
Edited by Jean-Francois Naudon
Favourite Scene: Nothing particularly stood out, unfortunately.
Scene That Bugged Me: You know, much of the increasingly worse stuff wouldn’t have happened if the police had done their jobs and searched for an invoice to prove that Yvon was paid by the questionable shop. Just saying.
Watch it if: You absolutely need to watch a movie about the evils of capitalism (or something)
Avoid it if: Central plots are important to you in a movie