THE DEVIL, PROBABLY (Diable probablement, Le)

(director/writer: Robert Bresson; cinematographer: Pasqualino De Santis; editor: Germaine Lamy; music: Philippe Sarde; cast: Laelita Carcano (Edwige), Henri De Maublanc (Michel), Nicolas Deguy (Valentin), Geoffrey Gaussen (Bookseller), Régis Hanrion (Dr. Mime), Robert Honorat (Commissioner), Tina Irissari (Alberte), Antoine Monnier (Charles); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Stéphane Tchalgadjieff; New Yorker Films; 1977-France-in French with English subtitles)

If nothing else, there’s plenty of conviction in the telling of the grim story.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

French master director Robert Bresson (“Diary of a Country Priest”/”Au Hasard Balthazar”) was in his seventies when he made the bleak psychological drama The Devil Probably. It’s an opaque look at the student movement in the Paris of the ’70s, that raises more questions than it answers. Bresson coldly observes his student subject with a numbing sense of detachment, much like a scientist looking under the microscope of a foreign specimen.

The title is derived from a bus ride where Charles says to his traveling companion that “Governments are short sighted,” and another passenger chimes in saying “Not to blame governments, it’s the masses who determine events,” and this gets another to reply “So who is it that makes a mockery of humanity? Who’s leading us by the nose?” This allows the first passenger to philosophize “The Devil, probably,” and then the bus crashes to the tune of honking horns.

Charles (Antoine Monnier) is a somber 20-year-old Christ-like figure who has so soured of the world and its deceits that he has decided to protest against life by killing himself by proxy, hiring a drug-addict he haphazardly meets in a cemetery to shoot him and spare him from the mortal sin of suicide. The nihilistic youth lives a libertine existence and has two good-looking girlfriends who care about him even though they have more attractive suitors, Alberte (Tina Irissari) and Edwige (Laetitia Carcano), but Charles can’t overcome that feeling of isolation that alienates him from society and therefore can’t connect with them. Charles has been politically active and looked towards religion for comfort, but neither has satisfied his temperamental needs. Charles even allowed for his concerned friends to arrange for him to visit a psychiatrist named Dr. Mime (Regis Hanrion), but Charles righteously states that his problem is only that he “sees things too clearly.”

Since the tale is told in flashback we know that Charles is no longer with us, as the film begins with a newspaper account of a young man’s suicide. The story clears up why and how he died, as Bresson takes us on a mind trip of the last six months of Charles’ life. Bresson aims to get at the mindset of his protagonist and the culture that influenced him. Charles’ deep feelings are internalized to the point where he can’t openly communicate to others what is on his mind, and because of that he appears unreachable. Bresson is more interested in targeting cosmic truths than anything worldly, so he’s not out to make a case for Charles’ position as much as he’s trying to present him as a symbol for the way an increasing number of other disillusioned youths feel about society. If nothing else, there’s plenty of conviction in the telling of the grim story.

Bresson’s melancholy film offering a shocking portrayal of modern alienated youth, earned him the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.

REVIEWED ON 4/28/2004 GRADE: B –