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FOUR NIGHTS OF A DREAMER (Quatre nuits d’un rêveur) (director/writer: Robert Bresson; screenwriter: from the novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky; cinematographer: Pierre Lhomme; editor: Raymond Lamy/Geneviève Billo; music: Michel Magne; cast: Isabelle Weingarten (Marthe), Guillaume des Forêts (Jacques), Maurice Monnoyer (Lover), Jérôme Massart (Jacques’ artist friend), Lidia Biondi (Marthe’s mother); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; 5 Minutes to Live; 1971-France-in French with English subtitles)
“Bresson is at his cynical best.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Dostoevsky story, White Nights, was previously filmed under that title by Luchino Visconti in 1957. Robert Bresson’s Four Nights of a Dreamer is a loose adaptation of that 1847 Dostoyevsky novella, with the scene shifted from 19th-century Russia to modern-day France.It’s much lighter fare than usual for the auteur, but he manages to turn the romantic drama into a perplexing, richly humorous, deeply felt and poignant meditation on love, loss and the human condition.

An amateur young painter named Jacques (Guillaume des Forêts) is happy after a day spent in the country. At night he’s back in Paris and encounters a pretty young girl prepared to jump off the Pont Neuf. He prevents her from jumping and takes her home. They chat and agree to see each other the next night at the same bridge. He learns her name is Marthe (Isabelle Weingarten) and that she lives with her divorced mom, who lives off her hubby’s alimony payments and the money from renting out a room to boarders (all the previous lodgers were males, as mom hopes one of them will marry her daughter). One of those boarders is an unpleasant self-satisfied intellectual student (Guillaume des Forêts), someone filled with spite if he thinks he’s been slurred, whom Marthe gives herself to and pleads with him to take her away with him because she’s bored living under her mother’s thumb. He tells her he has a fellowship to Yale and will return next year and meet her on the bridge. When he doesn’t show, she decided to jump. During the day the earnest and self-effacing Jacques records on his tape recorder everything from pigeons cooing in the park to him recording silly love messages calling out for a love that is “pure and innocent.” What he does best is dream and yearn for an ideal woman. Jacques acts the part of a friend and makes no moves on her even though he’s attracted to her. He gets Marthe to write a letter to the no show and tries to console her, as they go about town at night to what seems like touristy pubs. On the fourth night when the one Marthe still loves doesn’t show, she tells Jacques she now loves him and forgot about her Yalie. Jacques tells her that he loves her, but as they are walking in the street she runs into her lover and ditches the romantic Jacques for the career-minded lover who returned. Evidently the lower-middle-class gal also had dreams and they involved trying to escape from a life she feels trapped in by believing her dreams of love are real, and is too blind to see that her lover only wanted her for his personal satisfaction so he can on a whim score a conquest.

Told with conviction, it seems to have its pulse on the fragile nature of love and the clichéd thoughts on romance both the naive artist and susceptible young lady share together. Bresson is at his cynical best, dislodging such foolish pipe dreams with a mixture of compassion, subtle humor and cold reality. Jacques’s loss doesn’t seem tragic, more experiential, because he never believed Marthe was anything but a lost dreamer like himself, who are both alike because in their loneliness they fall hardest for those they never see clearly enough to draw an accurate picture of them in their mind.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”