director Robert Bresson
Fandor collected a series of Criterion films for their weekly supplement to the site’s offerings under the concept of “Final Films”. While some of the directors listed died somewhat early untimely deaths, others were considered masters who died after long, successful lives, well into or past their 70’s. L’Argent was available under this grouping.
Interestingly, I’ve for a long while noted that it seems to me that directors who work into their later careers often seem to become less successful as they age on. I don’t say this to be ageist or anything, but it was something I observed years ago with Samuel Fuller (and now for the life of me can’t recall who else) but I do recall having this conversation with a friend and concurring on this issue. Whoever it was, whatever the examples that I can’t now pull from the recessed of my mind, displayed a less effective ability to portray something believable.
Now, I’m not putting this forward as anything other than an idea that struck me some years ago, but it’s something that comes to mind in watching films, whether this idea is supported or disavowed by the quality of a film.
For Robert Bresson, who didn’t even make a feature film until he was in his 40’s, L’Argent came when he was in his 80’s (he would live to the age of 98).
Based somewhat loosely on a story by Leo Tolstoy, L’Argent tells a story of the corruptibility of money, the poison of crime, and its rippling effects. What starts with a counterfeit bank note passed off by two teenage boys from posh homes, wends its way through a photography shop, into the hands of a delivery man, sullying everyone who comes into contact with it, either by crimes committed in response to it, or crimes inspired by it. People are made into criminals by its proximity. Life beget theft, jobs are lost, families are broken up, people imprisoned, a child dies, and ultimately, the slipperiest slope for the most abject of the characters leads way to spree murders.
Lean and concise at 83 minutes, the film is effective and ruthless in its detached approach to its characters. It’s harsh and harrowing in its critique of the poison of money and the avarice and depths that people will go to get their hands on it, whether it is more idly or more actively vicious.
The only oddity I noted is in the style of performance by the actors, all somewhat wooden and stiff. Some of the dialogue seems stiff as well (though it’s hard to tell entirely when you are watching a film in a language that you don’t understand and are going off the subtitles for content.) Overall, this film would be an argument against my supposition about aging directors. It’s actually, quite remarkable.