L'Argent

In 1983, Robert Bresson was about as old as the 20th century. That's the best kind of lifespan: to live out the entirety of a century from start to finish (Bresson, in fact, nearly outlived it). So L'ARGENT is the film of an 82-year-old man, and by 82, you come to realize that the great moral question isn't why people commit crimes, but why they don't. And another important question comes around, especially if you live in a wealthy country: how do people convince themselves that they are not committing crimes every day? So here goes: a forged 500-franc note is spent by two young men at a photo supply shop. The owner recognizes it as a forgery, but decides to pass it off to a workman, who is arrested when he attempts to pay with it at a restaurant. The workman leads a cop back to the photo store, but the employees deny ever having met him. They don't want to get blamed. The workman is put on trial. Those are about the first fifteen minutes of L'ARGENT. The film's all cause-and-effect, crime-punishment-crime: a car smashes into another car during a getaway, the rumbling of a piano knocks over a glass, the court sends a man to jail, people are murdered. But L'ARGENT isn't a story about how the system fails the individual, because Bresson also knows that the middle-class conception of the evil and distant "system" is just a way of avoiding moral responsibility and facing the fact that the middle class is the system itself. L'ARGENT is about how individuals fail and surprise each other, about how we are all each other's oppressors when we could just as easily be each other's saviors. In 85 minutes of images, sounds, quiet words, and concrete cuts, we are shown how our half-conscious actions allow society to perpetuate evil and offer the possibility (if not the reality) of good at the same time. Neither trait is more inherent, more naturally "human" than the other; both are offered as possibilities for individual action. If anybody tells you that Bresson is all about "transcendence" (and a lot of people will, even smart people), remember that it's bullshit: no filmmaker was in more direct interaction with physical matter, with the stuff of action.