Thursday 16 May 2024

Money (L'Argent) (1983)



The Cannes winner of 1983 was Robert Bresson’s “L’Argent”. This was also his last movie. As Bresson is a familiar name on the List, I knew more or less what sort of territory we are entering here.

The focus of the movie is as the title says, money. Money as the agent of everything that is wrong in the world. The narrative is sort of a chain reaction, starting with a teenage boy who is barred from the kind of allowance he wants and therefore exchange a large counterfeit note in a camera shop. The shopkeeper wants to get rid of those fake money he has and so lets his young assistant, Lucien (Vincent Risterucci) pay for fuel with them. The fuel delivery man, Yvon (Christian Patey) does not suspect a thing, is caught when he tries to pay with them in a cafe. In the ensuing court case Lucien and the shopkeeper denies everything so Yvon gets fired. Out of job, he gets hired for a heist, is caught and sent to prison. Meanwhile, Lucien steals from the shopkeeper, is fired and then goes ahead robbing the shopkeeper. The he goes to prison too. And this is just the beginning.

Seen as a conventional movie, “L’Argent” is a pretty shitty movie. It is heavily stylized which means that all the acting is strangely wooden, and the characters are like automatons, delivering their lines and nothing more. All the characters are also flat and the only thing we learn about any of them, even the principal characters, is about their connection to the money in question. They need money and they are willing to compromise anything to get them.

The error here is of course to watch this as a conventional movie. “L’Argent” is an artistic project that is not here to entertain, but to drive an artistic point. The point here is the corruptive effect of money and by reducing the actors to robots, everything outside the money fades away. It is a singular desire. Defence is singular, the law is singular, violence is simply an extension of means to obtain money if other ways are barred.

Is Bresson then successful with his art project? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder as they say. The jury in Cannes obviously found it successful, though being an aging French movie icon would have been to his advantage here. I am not personally as certain. Because everything else fades into the background, the message here is so singular that it is banal. Money is bad. Money corrupts. Money is the cause of everything bad that happens.

The problem with that is that it is not a discussion or a polemic setup. It is simply a statement. If we learned something about the people that was corrupted or the victims there would have been depth to the statement, but instead it is simply a litany of all the horrible things people will do for money. It is just way too simplified. On top of that it is oldest cliché in the world to blame money and greed and by extension capitalism. Not that I in any way want to defend and clear finance and greed of evil, but, come on, this is really cheap.

When Bresson tried to focus on very basic elements in his movies from the fifties, they worked so well be because they condensed to object to stunning clarity. With “L’Argent” he is trying to do the same thing to our relationship with money, but to me it completely lacks the zing of his early movies and instead it feels tired.

It is an art movie and I like the idea of it, even appreciate it. It just does not really work for me.


  1. I'm with you. I found this slow and frustrating, and while the complete lack of any facial expressions in the characters can work in some cases, it really doesn't work for me here.

    1. just did not work. The main competition in Cannes that year must have been thin.