This 1974 masterpiece by the late Robert Bresson (Mouchette) is a remarkable act of mythic revisionism. Stripped bare of its enduring romance, the Arthurian legend in Bresson's hands becomes an ugly and uncomfortably famil... more »iar vision of powerful men capable of cruelty, rivalry, disillusionment, and self-destruction. Lancelot (Luc Simon) is portrayed as a ruthless and ignoble opportunist who returns from his impossibly futile mission to locate the Holy Grail, only to callously rekindle his affair with Guinevere (Laura Duke Condominas). The emotional impact of the film is that of pure shock: the Arthurian ideal turns out to have little chance in the real world, and as there may be nothing worse than a hollow dream, the Knights of the Round Table descend into selfishness. Known as the great minimalist of French cinema, Bresson uses his trademark repression of energy--editing action sequences so that the visual emphasis is on tiny details--to create a tension that finally snaps with the mucky dissipation of the dream on unhallowed ground: Camelot ending not with a bang or a whimper but with the last clank of armor in a deluded cause. --Tom Keogh« less
"This is a sombre version of the Arthurian legend, and in my view very much in tone with Thomas Malory's 15th century version. The latter is dark and foreboding, and so is this film. The deeds of arms of the knights are represented in terms that undermine the ideals of chivalry. There is only death, blood and severed body parts everywhere. The heap of bodies on which the last shot of the film focuses is the climax of this violence.
At the centre of this film stands the love between Guinevere and Lancelot, sublimely represented in the film: Guinevere waits for Lancelot's return in silence, and suffers for her love of him. Lancelot has come to the point where he tries to resist this love, for the sake of chivalry, but it is interesting to see the way in which he fails in his attempt to relinquish Guinevere.
I dare say this film is essential for anyone seriously interested in the Arthurian legend, and for anyone who has a clear understanding that the latter is not romance Hollywood style, but much darker. This is definitely not a film for everyone. There is a lot of blood and violence in the film, its atmosphere is dark, the dialogue is designedly monotonous, to match the sombre mood of the film, and there is no musical score throughout, except a very little in the beginning and end. It is exquisite in that it tells the story of a great love, accompanied by great suffering, and in that it demystifies any romantic notions we might have had about Arthur and his knights, as seen in other films of the genre. The austerity of the interiors also does away with our romantic illusions.
The acting is amazing, and I identified with the actor playing Guinevere in particular. The last scene of the movie, in which Lancelot, dying, says only one word: "Guinevre" (French version of Guinevere), stays with the viewer forever.
Old Legend , New Content
Doug Anderson | Miami Beach, Florida United States | 01/29/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The Arthurian Legend is the most interesting and powerful blend of Christian virtue and Medieval valor in literature. In Bressons hands, however, the search for the Holy Grail does not inspire acts of virtue or valor. In fact the search proves to be quite demoralising and leads to a lot of infighting. Once faith is lost so is unity and all that is left is a grab for power. Arthur is barely a character, he simply is the one who is slightly older and has slightly shorter hair and wears a crown. Lancelot is a kind of Hamlet who can't decide what he stands for. He loves Guinevere but he wants to do what is right for the kingdom as well. Ultimately he does the right thing and returns her to the king but too late--the favoritism shown him by both Queen and King has turned him into a target to the other Knights. Mordred is his most powerful detractor and the more Lancelot wavers the stronger and more resolute he becomes. In subverting the Arthurian legend or secularising it Bresson has turned the story into a Shakespearean tragedy about loyalty and betrayal. He's turned a story which dealt in absolutes (or at least in a search for absolutes)where people are defined by actions which can be deemed good or bad into a story which deals only in relative truths where all acts are marked with uncertainty and doubt. He's turned an old story into a new one."
A Magnificent Study of Honor
Jeffrey R Galipeaux | 04/06/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The story of Lancelot is one of loyalty, and who better to agonizingly dissect such a concept than Robert Bresson? His film is an investigation of the conceits of "unifying poetic myth," and none of the values allegedly transmitted through shared tradition emerge without the taint of flawed humanity. As always, Bresson darkens and reduces: Arthur is an anti-figure, Camelot is stark and roughhewn (though it is never dwelt upon, his vision of the round table, and the chairs around the table, are to my mind as stunning a bit of set design as you will ever find), nowhere does magic or myth pervade the storyline. The camera moves with guilty severity, Guenivere is near comatose, a voice of (t?)reason frozen in rigid profile. There is no "spectacle" (the famous jousting sequence is consciously anti-spectacular, but still a riveting use of camera and sound), the sumptuous beauty of the film comes from Bresson's compositions of human figures, stark lighting, and muddy green-brown colors. Lancelot du Lac is a magnificent, beautiful movie, a perfect setting and story for Bresson's signature touches. Those looking for a swashbuckling Arthurian epic will be disappointed; those looking for a rigorous but rewarding investigation of conscience, fate, and tradition will be deeply rewarded.
The film begins with the information that "The Grail has not been found" and ends with a single word and image that implode a whole universe of myth."
It's not for everyone...
Joe Sixpack -- Slipcue.com | ...in Middle America | 02/20/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"French director Robert Bresson crafts this grim, anti-romantic, and super-artsy, somewhat low-budget deconstruction of the Arthurian legend. As the films begins, the Knights return from a futile and spectacularly failed attempt to find the Holy Grail; Arthur's Camelot is a miserable, somewhat grubby encampment -- when riders from a neighboring hamlet come to challenge the remnants of Arthur's army to a jousting tournament, one senses that the "king" has lost his power amid a cloud of failure, impotence and doubt. In terms of the story itself, in how Bresson subverts and undercuts the glamour of legend, this is an interesting film. However, as an actual movie, it's rather stilted and pretentious, and not very enjoyable, outside of the ironic intellectual and filmic parameters set by the director. It's practically a "dogme" film: the sound design is rather poor, and the camera work is (purposefully) irritating: the film's lasting motif is the constant tracking of legs -- the stockinged legs of the knights as they slowly traipse about, the legs of their horses which are shown in place of the action when the warriors ride to battle. For much of the film, visually speaking, the actors do not exist above the waist... it's an artsy break with cinematic convention that's meant to wow films students and which mimics the loftiness of the direction. Cool for academics, I suppose, but if you're looking for a sword-'n'-sandals flick, this one might really bug you. I'm sure the guys from Monty Python must have been lampooning this when they made "Holy Grail," but for many viewers, Bresson's version will seem funny-bad enough."
An intriguing, pessimistic tale by Robert Bresson, though no
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 09/16/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"What to make of this movie? Blood squirts and drips from severed heads and sliced groins like thick cherry juice. Lancelot says "J'taime' to Guinevere with all the passion of a piece of cheese. As in most of Bresson's films, the acting is expressionless, but here it is emotionless. "You are alone in your pride," says Guinevere to Lancelot, while she stares at him without a trace of feeling. "Pride in what is not yours is a falsehood." "I was to bring back the Grail," he tells her. "It was not the Grail," she says, "it was God you all wanted. God is no trophy to bring home. You were all implacable. You killed, pillaged, burned. Then you turned blindly on each other. Now you blame our love for this disaster...I do not ask to love you. Is it my fault I cannot live without you? I do not live for Arthur." Guinevere is austere and relentless. And Lancelot? "Poor Lancelot," one character says, "trying to stand his ground in a shrinking world."
It's been two years since Arthur sent his knights on a quest for the Holy Grail. Now, exhausted, defeated, at odds with each other, their numbers severely reduced by disease and fighting, the remnants have returned. Lancelot saw in a dream that he must renounce his love for Arthur's queen, but Guinevere will have none of that. Mordred lurks in the shadows, hinting and insinuating. Before long, the knights have chosen sides. A few will stand with Lancelot in defense of Guinevere. The rest will stand...not with Arthur, but with Mordred.
Bresson has taken the Arthurian legend and turned it into a tale of hopeless pessimism. If you don't care for spoilers, read no further. How hopeless? Nearly everyone dies except Guinevere. There is no Robert Goulet in paper mache armor singing "If Ever I Should Leave You," no Nicol Williamson urging Arthur to do the right thing. It's difficult to say who is the more pig-headed...Guinevere for adamantly refusing to release Lancelot from his vows of love, or Lancelot later deciding that love is all. By the time they realize that Guinevere must return to Arthur, it's far too late.
The legend of Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot, and of Mordred and Gawain, is emotional and powerful. Bresson takes it and squeezes it down until it is nearly wrung dry. Loyalties are as much based on self-interest and delusion as on true fealty. Love is as selfish as it is consuming. There's no room for hope, or even noble tragedy, in Bresson's version of the myth. Making the movie even more difficult to access is the Bresson style. Even in the most charged moments, the characters speak in a monotone. Bresson's penchant for amateurs and a flat style of delivery can work wonders in some of his movies (just look at Au Hasard Balthazar), but here everything is just flat. The photography is fascinating -- particularly the tournament sequence; all close-ups of the sides of galloping horses, just the legs of the knights, the sound of lances crashing into armor -- but it also is self-conscious. More than once I caught myself thinking, "Wow, this shot is sure pure Bresson." That may do much for cineastes appreciating an auteur director; I'm not sure it does much, in this case, to advance the emotions of the story. And yet, the film picks up a lot of steam. The last half hour is a beautiful, powerful picture of pointlessness. Mordred and his followers are going to usurp Arthur. Lancelot and his followers will ride for Arthur. And we see a shot of a riderless horse galloping through the forest, then a cut to a knight on the ground bleeding to death, then yeoman in trees firing arrows, then the sequence again, and again, and again. No music, just the twang of arrows, the sound of hooves, the muted clanking of armor. And then we see a pile of dead and dying knights. There's no winsome little boy to carry the tale of Camelot this time.
On balance, I enjoyed the pessimism, the rhythm of the movie and some of the sequences. The film is worth seeing, but I just don't think this is one of Bresson's successes. The DVD has a fairly good film transfer. There are no extras."