France, Parc Film, Marianne Productions, 1969, 89 minutes
Scriptwriter and director: Robert Bresson
Director of photography: Ghislain Cloquet
Composer: Jean Wiener
Production designer: Pierre Charbonnier
Cast: Dominique Sanda, Guy Frangin, Jeanne Lobre, Claude Ollier, Gilles Sandier, Dorothée Blanck, Jacques Kébadian
Robert Bresson, much admired by Andrei Tarkovsky, is famous primarily for his innovated film language. His films combined the elegantly constructed mise-en-scenes, emphatically laconic intonation, and a detached manner of acting - or rather, the rejection of acting as such, emphasis on reading the text without expression and affectation. He did not consider himself an intellectual (while obviously being one) and boasted that until the age of 17 he had not read books at all, but then fell passionately in love with the works of Proust, Stendhal, Dickens and, of course, Dostoevsky. Bresson admitted in a newspaper interview (“Le Monde”, November 11, 1971) that he would never have dared to transfer to the screen the "great novels" of one of the main Russian writers, but he had enough courage to adapt two novellas by Dostoevsky - "White Nights", which turned into the film "Four Nights of a Dreamer", and "A Gentle Creature". He considered both works rather trifling, which only untied the director’s hands: from there, he could take the ideas that interested him and do with them as he pleased. Therefore, the differences between "A Gentle Creature" and its literary source are not at all surprising. In the book, Dostoevsky's hero embarks on a confessional monologue, a confused and convulsive stream of consciousness, trying to understand what the reason for his wife's desperate act is and where his fault lies. To some extent, he is his own judge and executioner: “…But why she died is still a question. She was frightened of my love, asked herself seriously: to accept or not to accept, and could not bear the question, and would rather die”.
In Bresson’s film, Luc rather dispassionately retells the main events of his far from cloudless family life to an old servant. Her reactions to the story at some point become more important than the confession: for example, when she tells her master that she will leave him after the funeral. But Bresson was always more interested in moral problems, above all theological ones. The plot of the short story is just a pretext for a close-up of the crucifix, which the Gentle Creature looks at a few minutes before the suicide.
Moreover, the Gentle Creature herself, whom we, of course, see in the book only through the eyes of her grief-stricken husband, is depicted in the film in a completely different way. In Dominique Sanda, one can see a lot of things - pride, stubbornness, and self-esteem - but there is not even a hint of her inherent meekness. This can be seen as a kind of rethinking of the literary source: not contempt or pain, but the inner strength of the heroine leads her to the impossibility of living with an unloved person who confessed his love, and the crucifix seems to give her confidence before a desperate step.
The director retains his characteristic restraint of tone, reminding of not even his own previous films, but of Antonioni who glorifies alienation. It is no coincidence that the film contains a scene invented by Bresson - of a family outing to the theater to see “Hamlet” - here, in no uncertain terms, he speaks of his attitude to exaggerated acting, to profanation of feelings. And yet this is one of the most emotional and lively films in his filmography, primarily due to the work of the beginner Dominique Sanda, a former model who next year will appear in Bernardo Bertolucci's “The Conformist”. It seems that the very fervor of her actor’s nature opposed the minimalism of the director’s decisions and gave life to his theological constructs.
Based on the eponymous short story by Fyodor Dostoevsky. The young usurer Luc looks at the body of his wife who threw herself out of the window and tries to understand why she did it. Through a series of flashbacks, the story of their marriage becomes visible: from his marriage proposal to her jump from the balcony. A screen adaptation of the short story by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the action of which was transferred to Paris on the late 1960s.