L'argent [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (14th August 2022).
The Film

"L'argent" (1983)

Yvon (played by Christian Patey), a maintenance man unknowingly receives a few forged 500 franc notes from a photo shop after delivering some heating oil. This causes trouble when he tries to use the bills at a restaurant, leading to his arrest and jail time, losing his job and becoming separated from his wife and young daughter. Even after his eventual release, the downward spiral would continue with more tragic consequences.

"L'argent" was filmmaker Robert Bresson's thirteenth feature length film in a career spanning four decades, and would ultimately be his final work. Loosely based on writer Leo Tolstoy's "The Forged Coupon", first published in 1911 one year after his death. Dealing with a boy's fall into darkness after using a forged note, it also dealt with his redemption through religion in the moral tale. For Bresson, the focus was on the first half, basically removing the main character's recovery and forgiveness and leaving the audience with a bleak and emotionally devastating note. While there is a sour taste by the end, "L'argent" still leaves an impacting and strong note sense of storytelling and filmmaking, tracing the steps of how one seemingly minor incident could turn towwards a dark path.

"L'argent", as the title suggests, follows "the money" from hand to hand. Unlike how money was exchanged in Bresson's "Pickpocket" with calculated theft, this is passed down from person to person, business to business through service. Schoolboys Norbert and Martial (played by Marc Ernest Fourneau and Bruno Lapeyre) knowingly pass on a forged bill to a photo shop for a purchase. The shop staff later figure out the kids paid with forged currency, and instead of taking the money to the police in which they would not get a return for the lost profit, decide to pass it onto the unsuspecting maintenance man, Yvon. Yvon doesn't question the legitimacy, so all the guilt of the forged money comes down on him when he is arrested for trying to use it. It is truly a wrong place at the wrong time situation, and unfortunately no one comes to his rescue. Though he testifies in court that the money came from the photo shop, the staff, including the assistant Lucien (played by Vincent Risterucci) lies for his employer, essentially sending Yvon to jail. With nothing to prove his innocence, time in prison and his later time out as an ex-convict prove to be his gateway into a life of crime as he is unable to return to his previous life. From robbery to even murder, Yvon's conscience is eternally disturbed, without a sense of morality as he is vengeful, angered, and driven towards wrath and greed. It's interesting to see that at the beginning the only innocent character becomes the most despicable, while all the guilty characters passing the forged money and lying their way out of trouble essentially have little consequence.

Not to say that every other character comes out unscathed, as Lucien takes revenge on his boss by stealing from the company safe, leading to his arrest as well and joining Yvon in jail. Yvon's wife losing her husband and having to become a single mother suddenly has its tolls as well that are detailed in a devastating letter she writes to Yvon while he is still incarcerated. The film is shown in multiple viewpoints, with only the audience being able to see the full consequential details. There are no tricks in time being a linear told story, no alternate views of sequences and a simply told story with calculated scenes. Bresson was known for his perfection through an unorthodox method. The actors, or "models" as he called them were almost always unknowns without major experience, and this also goes for the cast of "L'argent". Most professional actors would have performed the emotional sequences with overreactions or intense actions, but Bresson leaves things with restraint by having the plot move the story forward rather than outlandish performances. It may seem stilted with the performances, but this was intentional throughout most of his career, and "L'argent" was no different.

While he had beginners in front of the camera, behind the scenes it was a different story with a number of established veterans. Pasqualino De Santis who also photographed Breson's "Lancelot du lac" in 1974 and worked in a number of well received Italian films returned as cinematographer. For certain sequences later on, Emmanuel Machuel was the replacement cinematographer. Oscar winnner Pierre Guffroy worked on the production design. Things were tense on set with Bresson and the crew in the hot summer of 1982 in Paris, with some staff replacement during production and the tight budget while requiring multiple retakes of scenes until scenes were done to Bresson's liking. It would never be a technical issue, as Bresson preferred still cameras without much in terms of tracking or movement, but with having the performers bring the scenes to life in various ways. And with non-professionals, it would not be easy as a take or two, but more into the dozens.

Even with the troubles in production and the eventual editing down of the rough cut of 99 minutes down to 84 minutes for its Cannes premiere in May of 1983, the reception of the highly respected director's latest work was not particularly praiseworthy. The initial Cannes screening had a mixed reception including audience boos, with critics noting on its downbeat story and incredibly bleak and dark note for its ending. Yet it was not entirely a disaster, winning Best Director at the festival, tying with Andrei Tarkovsky for his work on "Nostalghia". It was also named one of the ten best films by Cahiers du Cinéma and won Best Director by the National Society of Film Critics Awards in the United States. The film has only gotten higher praise over the years, with it's almost simple yet complex story of man's weakness in greed and mental issues of depression and anger being brought on by circumstances. Though the film does not show what happens to Yvon's character as it would in the original story by Tolstoy, it makes people question about their own actions, effect of a small lie having major consequences, the the hierarchy of the class system and the use of money to buy their way out of trouble, as well as the judicial system's flaws and the controversial issues of incarceration without any benefits or help being given to the inmates during their time in and out. "L'argent" would be Bresson's final film as he could never get his long planned biblical epic story off the ground and no other projects could be financed. He died in 1999 at the age of 98.

The film was given a 4K restoration by MK2, and was eventually released on Blu-ray in 2017 in North America by The Criterion Collection and in 2018 by MK2 in France, both utilizing the restoration. For the UK, the BFI has no given the film its HD debut with this Blu-ray release.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray


The BFI presents the film in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The original 35mm negative was scanned in 4K resolution for the restoration by MK2. The picture is quite striking in detail being sharp and damage being extremely minimal. There is a good amount of film grain with no digital artifacts, without any distractions such as scratches or speckles. While all seems perfect, the colors seem a little off. There seems to be a slight push towards teal or gold hues in the image, so there don't seem to be any instances of pure white, as paper or plates which assumingly would be white would have a slightly yellowed color instead. This is true for the Blu-rays released in the United States and France which all come from the same restoration. As the colors are consistent throughout, there are no instances of the colors being too distracting, but it's one of the many curious cases of color film restoration that looks closer to a modern era tone rather than one from its era. Regardless, there are still many positives to be said about the image here.

Including the restoration text at the opening, the runtime is 84:27.


French LPCM 2.0 mono
The original mono track is presented uncompressed. As with most of the director's films, dialogue and effects are key and they are well reproduced here. Dialogue is always clear and precise, as well as the background effects being well balanced against the voices. There are no issues or dropout, hiss, pops, or other damage leaving a cleand and crisp audio track. It is not a terribly busy audio track and is more on the minimal side, but still an excellent job on the sound restoration here.

There are optional English subtitles in a white font which are well timed and easy to read.


"Style, Anti-style and Influence" 2022 discussion between Geoff Andrew, Jonathan Hourigan and Nasreen Munni Kabir (22:31)
In this discussion filmed at the BFI Southbank in 2022, critic Geoff Andrew, assistant on the film "L'argent" Jonathan Hourigan and filmmaker Nasreen Munni Kabir talk about Bresson at work, his methods, some personal stories about him such as his kindness to others as well as his strictness. They also talk about their thoughts on his works, the influence he had, his casting process and more.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 without subtitles

"First and Last" 2022 presentation by Jonathan Hourigan (9:24)
This new presentation by Hourigan at the BFI Southbank in 2022 compares Bresson's changes in filmmaking style with examples from the director's first and final films. Discussed are the cinematography, the lack of music, other visual cues, and more. Due to licensing issues, the clip from his first film "Angels of Sin" is not available here on the disc, though the clip from "L'argent" are present, with burned-in French subtitles.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 without subtitles

"The Root of All Evil" 2022 video essay by Michael Brooke (18:53)
This new video essay by critic Michael Brooke which is illustrated with clips from "L'argent", he talks about Bresson's obsession with hands, the original Tolstoy story, the class structure between the characters, the value of money, the violence, and much more. This is an excellent essay and is easily a highlight of this Blu-ray release.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English/French LPCM 2.0 with optional subtitles for the French portions

"Jonathan Hourigan on L'argent" 2007 audio introduction (26:02)
This introduction from Hourigan is an audio recording from a 2007 screening of the film, in which he recalls the production a quarter of a century later, with its difficulties in financing and changes in crewmembers, the rough cut and eventual trimming, the reception at Cannes, and more, including taking some questions from audience members. Although this is labeled as an "introduction", it is highly advised NOT to start this extra before watching the film itself, as this audio introduction plays as an alternate audio track over the film itself. Once the introduction ends, the audio reverts to the film's audio track. For first time viewers, it's better advised to watch with your eyes closed for the 26 minutes, or settle for listening to it after the film is finished for the best option.
in English LPCM 2.0 without subtitles

"Value for Money" 1970 short film (21:54)
This BFI funded experimental black and white short features a young woman, the beach, a coin operated machine, and bizarre interactions with figures on the sand with the machine's control. Without dialogue and only relying on music and effects, this seems to be the only directorial effort from David Blest who also wrote and produced the short. The BFI states that Blest is the arachnologist Dr. David Blest who wrote a great number of publications on spiders over the course of decades, and if this the case, it is unfortunate that he passed away in 2012 at the age of 81 after suffering from injuries from a fall in his home in Canberra, Australia. The image and sound of the short do have some issues with damage marks to be seen and some hiss and pops to be heard, thouhg it is still in a fair watchable state. Note that the short can also be view on the BFI Player for free.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 mono without subtitles

Theatrical Trailer (0:27)
The extremely short original French trailer consists of shots and sounds of an ATM and money in the hands of various people without names, faces or voices. Giving no information on what the film is about, it is still a suspenseful and intriguing piece with the trademarks of Bresson - hands, static shots, and silence.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.66:1, in LPCM 2.0 with optional English subtitles for French text

A 24 page booklet is included in the first pressing. First is "A Chat and a Glass of Water" by Jonathan Hourigan, in which he reprints some correspondence he had with Bresson as well as recalling his introduction to Bresson films in university, being able to interview him, working as an assistant on the director's final film, as well as other personal memories. "Bresson and L'argent" by Dr Martin Hall, lecturer at York St John University is next, which breaks down the film's themes and Bresson's methods. Full film credits are included, as well as a 1983 review of the film originally printed in Monthly Film Bulletin, information on the special features, transfer information, acknowledgements, and stills.

As stated, the film was previously released on Blu-ray in France by MK2 and by The Criterion Collection in North America, each having their own exclusive extras. The MK2 has a Bresson interview from 1983 plus interviews with filmnaker Eugène Green and editor Jean-François Naudon both from 2018 made exclusively for the Blu-ray release. The Criterion release has the Cannes Film Festival press conference from 1983 and a video essay on the film by film scholar James Quandt, plus the trailer. While the BFI ported none of their exclusive extras, the BFI package is excellent with their selection of extras.

Other notable clips:

A clip from the film, courtesy of the BFI.

The 1983 Cannnes press conference.

The 1983 interview with Bresson, also available on the MK2 Blu-ray.

An excerpt from James Quandt's video essay from the Criterion Blu-ray.

An introduction and Q&A with Richard Linklater on "L'argent" from April 15, 2015 at the Austin Film Society.


"L'argent" is incredibly bleak work at the end of Bresson's career, and even with its fascinating story of a man's unfortunate downfall that leaves a bit of a bitter taste, yet one that makes audiences think deeply with its messages. The BFI has given the film a great Blu-ray release with a number of exclusive extras. The colors and hues of the image may seem slightly off, but still comes as highly recommended.

The Film: A Video: B+ Audio: A Extras: B Overall: B+


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