Narrative presentation in Robert Bresson’s Pickpockets and Jean Luc Godard’s Vivre sa Vie

After much consideration, I have decided to ground my work in the work of two filmmakers I greatly admire. My paper will address the similarity in technique, formal elements, and theoretical construction of Robert Bresson’s Pickpockets and Jean Luc Godard’s Vivre sa Vie. My central research question will be uncovering how the formal elements employed by these two auteurs de-emphasizaes traditional narrative elements, and how the works are paralleled and disparate. I will attempt to answer this question by examining closely the innerworkings of these two films, and how they address similar issues of narrational experimentations.
Robert Bresson is considered to be one of the most important auteurs in film history, creating his own theories, style and film language. His book Notes on Cinematography describes in poignant fragments his style of working and his philosophy on filmmaking. His intense commitment to realism is an important and influential component of many filmmakers of the French New Wave, Godard in particular.
The similarity in presentational narrative style in both Pickpockets and Vivre sa Vie use subjective style which limits the perspective of the viewer, implementing a style of filmmaking which emphasizes editing and juxtaposition over narrational motivation – drawing on formal elements of filmmaking rather than traditional forms of narration to tell the story.
In my paper I will explore Bresson’s use of ellipses, as he ties events together not by causal construction, but instead through separation, which de-emphasizes the viewer’s reliance on traditional narrative. The act of witnessing in limited terms becomes part of the fibula’s construction, necessitating a greater level of engagement by the audience with the text.
Similarly, Godard makes use of formal elements to destabilize the traditional narrative model of film language. He uses voice over narration and intertitles, drawing attention to the act of watching and synthesizing the storyworld of the film.

I will of course use the films themselves as the primary texts for my own analysis.
Here are some of the primary and secondary sources I will be consulting:

1) Bresson, Robert. Notes On Cinematogrpahy. New York: Urizen Books, 1977.
2) Burnett, Colin. “Robert Bresson as a Precursor to the Nouvelle Vague: A Brief Historical Sketch.” March 31, 2004.
3) Godard, Jean Luc, Interviews. Ed. David Sterritt. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998.
4) Godard, Jean Luc. Godard on Godard: Critical Writing by Jean Luc Godard ed. Jean Narboni and Tom Milne. New York: Da Capo Press, 1986.
5)Millar, Daniel. “Pickpocket.” The Films of Robert Bresson. Ed. Ian Cameron.New York: Praeger, 1970.
6) Ed. Quandt, James. Robert Bresson. Toronto: Cinematheque Ontario, 1998.
7) Thompson, Rick J. “Pickpocket.” 1998.


One Response to “The Proposal”

  1. Jason Mittell on November 18th, 2008 2:13 pm

    This is a good proposal, with clear ideas relating to class. After finishing Bordwell, with his analyses of Pickpocket and Godard, do you think you have more to say about these films that builds on or challenges Bordwell’s approach? It’s fine if you want to do your own account to push back against Bordwell, but you don’t want to write an essay that reiterates the published analyses too much. Let’s chat on strategies…

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