Getting into Robert Bresson through ‘Lancelot du Lac’, aka making it easier to enter art cinema

Posted on October 31, 2019


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For three years now, I have been conducting the Young Critics Lab for the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival, with Star, and one of the questions that comes from every batch is how to get into foreign cinema, especially the really arty kind. It’s not easy, because even a relatively plot-filled, action-packed epic like Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai seems “slow” to a young audience today. They are unable to see what Roger Ebert did: “it moves quickly because the storytelling is so clear, there are so many sharply defined characters, and the action scenes have a thrilling sweep.” So imagine the problem with filmmakers like Michelangelo Antonioni or Robert Bresson or Andrei Tarkovsky.

I strongly believe that if you want to be critic, you need to have seen all the canonical works. You need to be familiar with the pantheon, even if you later decide this filmmaker or that one does not work for you. And one way to ease into the artier world – let’s say, Bresson – is to pick a work you are already familiar with in some shape or form. As a boy, I was crazy about myths. I’d read everything  I could lay my hands on – our own epics, Greek and Roman myths, Norse myths, everything. And I was especially nuts about the Arthurian legends. While in school, I read an abridged version, and thereon, every other kind I could get. One of the last TV shows I binge-watched was Merlin, which imagined Arthur and Merlin as young men (and imagine, Arthur does not know Merlin is a magician).

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