From Jean-Luc Godard through R.W. Fassbinder to Bruno Dumont, there is scarcely a European director to emerge since 1960 who does not in some way show the influence of Robert Bresson. But despite the fact that their movies neither look nor feel like Bresson, no one has referenced his work as closely as Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne.
The Dardennes’ L’Enfant (The Child), shown last week at the New York Film Festival (and opening in March), has many points of contact with Pickpocket; Rosetta, the Dardennes’ other Cannes prizewinner, is nearly a Marxist remake of Mouchette. The Dardennes are less transcendent and more materialist in their notions of grace than Bresson; their hectic camera is not nearly so contemplative, but they can be no less intently focused on particular details of the fallen world. (Human nature is crueler in Bresson and the possibility of redemption is slighter.)
Drawn as they are to the insulted and the injured, these filmmakers share a common fascination with Dostoyevsky. Pickpocket descends from Crime and Punishment (and two late Bresson films, Une Femme Douce and Four Nights of a Dreamer, are based on Dostoyevsky novellas). The Dardennes cite Crime and Punishment as a source for L’Enfant and have credited the Dostoyevsky one-liner “everyone is guilty in everyone’s eyes” (from The Brothers Karamazov) with inspiring La Promesse. In both cases, it’s a form of Christian filmmaking that has very little to do with The Passion of the Christ.