L’Argent by Robert Bresson (1983) (France)

Based on Leo Tolstoy’s The Forged CouponL’Argent is also French director Robert Bresson’s last film. Bresson, aged 82 when the film was released, was said by New Yorker critic Anthony Lane that he was “clearly in no mood for mellowing” (Lane, “Money Matters”) for L’Argent. The film shows how one small action of selfishness can result in a devastating chain effect that can ruin many people’s lives. Bresson also uses his films to convey his intentions of critiquing French society and the world. Themes such as redemption, salvation and revelation of the human soul have often been reflected in Bresson’s works. In L’Argent, Bresson aimed to show how easily people are misguided and they don’t stop the corruption but spread it to other people.

Yvon awaiting sentence from judge with his wife and daughter, Yvette behind

The main character, Yvon Targe, had endured collective incidents. He becomes victim to the corrupted people of society and loses his job. Trying to earn money, he gets arrested for being an accomplice in a robbery and is sentenced to 3 years imprisonment. His daughter dies and his wife leaves him. Yvon showed no mercy to even the kind woman who gave him a place to stay. He brutally murdered her entire family, including her. Yvon was given a chance at redemption which he did not take.

Yvon swinging the axe to kill the kind-hearted woman

In L’Argent, the camera work is different. For example, in the family murder scene as the scene begins, the camera focusing on an odd spot. The sound is the more important factor in the film, since you cannot see anything but you can hear everything. After a few seconds, the main character of the scene enters. The camera is usually directed towards the lower half of the body. There is few camera movement, most of which is used on tracking characters. The killing, and other violence in the film, is never seen directly on screen, which has a more dramatic effect and allows the viewers to imagine.

One of the counterfeit 500-franc notes

What Bresson has expertly managed to accomplish with his films is how man’s greed can cause destruction in societies, spreading the corruption to more and more people. In L’Argent, Bresson uses the greed of money. Two boys trick a store worker by paying for a photo-frame with a counterfeit 500-franc note. During the film, three boys take money from a cash machine. At the end of the film, Yvon asks the woman who took him in “Where’s the money?” before he kills her. Everything goes back to the greed for money.

At the time of the film’s release, 1983, the world was slowly modernizing and changing. Money has become increasingly more important, which justifies the greed for money in the film. It also shows that with increased technology, the people behind money crimes (E.g. stealing from cash machines, using counterfeit money, etc) also learn how to combat the new technology, seen when Lucien extracts the cash machine card from the cash machine and then withdraws money from the unlucky man’s account.

L’Argent became the film that Bresson himself was most satisfied with although he calls it a very depressing film. Many critics, including British film critic Tom Milne, hailed the film as a masterpiece. Bresson has been often mentioned as one of the main figures who have theoretically influenced the French New Wave. Furthermore, one of the French New Wave founders, François Truffaut, has noted that Bresson was one of the few directors in the world at that time that the term ‘auteur’ could be truly applied to.

Like many other filmmakers, Bresson has his own unique style of directing. His use of sound, associated specific sounds with different images and characters. He is also one of the directors who use non-professional actors, who are known as models to him. Instead of acting, they model out the situation by their ‘unconscious states of soul’ that is the substance of a film. Bresson focuses more on the emotional aspect than on the visual. As he uses non-professional actors, Bresson’s models usually have blank faces devoid of any emotion. He wants to show how people have become so selfish, only caring about their loved ones and themselves in the then changing society.

Bresson, also a writer, had released a book, Notes on the Cinematographer (1975); prior to L’Argent but he still remains steadfast in his own film theories, which are practical working notes that he has experimented and worked in his films. His film theories have influenced many other filmmakers, including Andrei Tarkovsky, Michael Haneke and the younger French New Wave directors. Bresson also wrote the script of L’Argent and was reported to have followed the script closely but at the same time, searched for new, surprising and expressive possibilities for the film to be played out as mentioned by then crew-member Jonathan Hourigan. Jean Luc-Godard praises Bresson’s writing highly, comparing his position to the likes of the Mozart of German Music. Through his writing, Bresson has been named Father of French Cinema by screenwriter and director Alain Cavalier.

All of this comes from Bresson’s own experiences, growing up as a Catholic, being a painter and photographer and being a Prisoner of War, including his own beliefs and morals on being a filmmaker. Even after his death, he is regarded highly by many other filmmakers and critics for his contributions to French cinema. He will no doubt remain an important figure in the history of film despite only having made 13 feature-length films in his 50 years career.

About the Author:
Edna is an avid reader who spends her free time looking for new snacks to eat.


  1. En.wikipedia.org. 1901. Robert Bresson – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Bresson [Accessed: 17 Jun 2013].
  2. En.wikipedia.org. 2010. French New Wave – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_New_Wave [Accessed: 17 Jun 2013].
  3. En.wikipedia.org. 1984. François Truffaut – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fran%C3%A7ois_Truffaut [Accessed: 17 Jun 2013].
  4. Horschamp.qc.ca. 2004. Inside Bresson’s L’Argent: An interview with crew-member Jonathan Hourigan. [online] Available at: http://www.horschamp.qc.ca/new_offscreen/hourigan_interview.html [Accessed: 17 Jun 2013].
  5. IMDb. 1983. L’argent (1983). [online] Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085180/ [Accessed: 17 Jun 2013].
  6. MovieMail Ltd. 2013. Film Stills. [image online] Available at: http://www.moviemail.com/film/dvd/LArgent-Bresson-1983/.
  7. MUBI. 2013. Axe. [image online] Available at: http://mubi.com/topics/directors-cup-film-analysis-largent-1983-by-robert-bresson.
  8. Walsh, D. 2005. The state of the modern soul – World Socialist Web Site. [online] Available at: http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2005/07/larg-j23.html [Accessed: 17 Jun 2013].

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