Truck driver Yvon (Patey) is given several counterfeit, high-denomination French franc notes without his knowledge. When he tries to use them in a café, the police are called. Yvon traces the money back to a photographic shop but the staff there lie and say they have never seen him before.
This simple deception of the fake notes creates a world of events that utterly destroys Yvon’s life, in a series of mundane catastrophes that are represented in a pared-down manner, devoid of all possible sentiment.
The lack of emotion (apart from any emotions the viewer brings) emanating from the film is due to Bresson’s way of filming: the camera captures the simple actions of the characters, often without their heads in frame; and with minimal dialogue. Often, dialogue is relegated to a brief statement or exchange after or before an action. In L’Argent, action is king.
L’Argent is an action film without the spectacle. Motivations and character quirks are dismissed as irrelevant. Action is mundane, we act all day, every day; in Yvon’s case his actions and those of others destroy any chance for happiness he ever had.
The acceleration and extremising of Yvon’s decline in the final third of the film seems to have a separate source. Without Bresson’s ultra-Catholicism, this would be a prime example of existentialist cinema: it’s Bresson’s pessimistic spiritual views that really turn the screw on Yvon.
This BFI release is restored from the original negative, presented in high definition and looks great.
Special features include:
Style, Anti-style and Influence (2022, 22 mins): an onstage discussion between Geoff Andrew, Jonathan Hourigan and Nasreen Munni Kabir on the films of Robert Bresson, filmed at BFI Southbank
First and Last (2022, 9 mins): film scholar Jonathan Hourigan, former assistant to Robert Bresson, compares the director’s first feature, Les Anges du péché, with his last, L’Argent
The Root of All Evil (2022, 19 mins): writer Michael Brooke considers Bresson’s late masterpiece in this newly commissioned video essay
Jonathan Hourigan on L’Argent (2007, 27 mins, audio only): an audio introduction to the film
Value For Money (1970, 22 mins): David Blest’s dreamlike, experimental short film, featuring Quentin Crisp, visualises coin-operated connections between money and religion