L' Argent (1983)

Robert Bresson’s last film turns a Tolstoy novella about a forged banknote into a formidably focused meditation on the supposed root of all evil.

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Alternative titles

  • Money Alternative


“Some Bressonians argue that the film is a pessimistic conclusion to his film-making career. Bresson himself said that he was not getting more pessimistic, just more lucid.”
Tim Cawkwell, robert-bresson.com, 2006

Even by Robert Bresson’s minimalist standards, L’Argent is ferociously single-minded. It initially traces the progress of a forged 500 franc note through various hands until it ends up in the possession of someone who innocently uses it to settle a restaurant bill. As a result, petrol station attendant Yvon loses his job and gets caught up in a spiral of criminal temptation that culminates in a shocking multiple murder.

But while the film’s title and the reference to “the traditional root of all evil” might suggest that it’s about money, the forged banknote is merely a Hitchcockian ‘MacGuffin’, a convenient prop that Bresson uses to explore evil’s real source: base human desires and their expression through free will.

The film’s most devastating moments come from glimpses of the truly innocent, from Yvon’s small daughter to the murdered family’s dog as it runs through the house in search of the merest flicker of life.

Aki Kaurismäki’s The Match Factory Girl (1990) is even sparer than Bresson at his most concentrated, though its relentless grimness is offset by a darkly comedic edge.

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