Cinema and Media Studies Robert Bresson
Colin Burnett
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0303


Robert Bresson (b. 1901–d. 1999) was not only one of France’s most revered art cinema auteurs, but also a publicity artist, a fashion photographer, a film producer, and a dialoguiste for popular films. Born in 1901 in Puy de Dôme, Auvergne, Bresson was raised in a military family and matriculated in Latin/Greek and philosophy at the prestigious Lycée Lakanal in Sceaux. His earliest-known work of art is a modest lithograph advertisement (c. 1927) for men’s shaving products, but his approach to publicity art rapidly became more ambitious through the influence of surrealism. By the early 1930s, Bresson had diversified his style, producing several elegantly sparse promotional prints for Lanvin perfumes and Coco Chanel. A brief stint as a cameraman for publicity films was followed by his directorial debut, the medium-length satirical comedy Affaires publiques (1934). The film failed at the box office, and Arc-Films (1934–1937), the company Bresson launched to produce it, faltered. He turned to writing dialogue for commercial features, including Les jumeaux de Brighton (1936). When Germany declared war on France, the production of René Clair’s L’air pur (1939), for which Bresson served as assistant, was halted. Apparently captured as a prisoner of war and released in 1941, Bresson was able to return to directing and completed his first two features, Les anges du péché (1943) and Les dames du bois de Boulogne (1945). When his 1945 film was rebuffed by critics and bankrupted its producer, Bresson’s career floundered. He served as copresident (alongside Roger Leenhardt and Jean Cocteau) of Objectif 49 (1948–1950), a ciné-club devoted to establishing a market for ambitious art films. But it was only in 1951, with an adaptation of Georges Bernanos’s Journal d’un curé de campagne, that Bresson rebounded. Over the next two decades, he became one of cinema’s premier auteurs. With such releases as Pickpocket (1959) and Au hasard Balthazar (1966), he forged a reputation for an unusually sparse, some would say spiritual, aesthetic. His later color films, from Une femme douce (1969) to L’argent (1983), tended toward the topical, addressing the entanglements of post–May 1968 Parisian life. Relying on a relatively consistent, precise style, and on a set of filmmaking guidelines published in his Notes on the Cinematograph (1975), Bresson is widely regarded in the early 21st century as the innovator of a unique aesthetic system that has influenced numerous directors, from Chantal Akerman and Olivier Assayas to Mani Kaul and Carlos Reygadas.


Apart from those found in books (see Book-Length General Overviews and Anthologies), only a handful of comprehensive, multilingual bibliographies have been compiled on Bresson’s career and body of work. Among these, the most useful remains the Bresson Bibliography. Citing critical and scholarly texts, as well as testimonials, writings, and interviews by Bresson and his collaborators, this source, a combined effort of two librarians (Sloan and Ben-Gad) and a researcher and educator (Blaakmeer), surveys five different languages and provides the user with the option of navigating the list thematically or alphabetically (according to author). Sloan 1983 makes for a useful companion text with invaluable annotations and critical overviews of over four decades of bibliographical sources.

  • Sloan, Jane. Robert Bresson: A Guide to References and Resources. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1983.

    Assembles an exhaustive annotated bibliography of 738 works on Bresson published in four different languages, including English, French, Italian, and German, and spanning the years 1934, coinciding with the release of Bresson’s directorial debut, Affaires publiques, through 1980. An online version, updated in 2006, includes material on Bresson’s final feature, L’argent.

  • Sloan, Jane, Shmuel Ben-Gad, and Frank Blaakmeer. “Bresson Bibliography.”

    The most extensive bibliography yet compiled on Bresson, comprising approximately 2300 print and online sources in five languages (English, French, Italian, German, and Dutch). Organized topically, according to film titles and other themes, including reviews of Notes on the Cinematograph (2016), dissertations, scripts, and obituaries. It was last updated in January 2009.

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