Backlog #18: The Devil, Probably (1977)

A young mathematics student contemplates the meaning of life. He is convinced that society is beyond help and that life is futile. The narrative covers his attempts to reason with himself, his friends and other sources (a priest, a psychoanalyst) that this is not the case. He doesn’t get anywhere near accepting this and eventually he asks an acquaintance to accompany him to the cemetery and shoot him in the head.

This film is strikingly impressionistic (certainly to a newcomer). For a start, it is inscrutable: the characters and performances are unemotional. They do reflect (a lot), but in an entirely self-contained manner. There is no room for charisma (as we would naturally assume from the cinema and its actors) anywhere.

It is extremely hermetic: the characters are broad brush strokes, they symbolise a “type” (beautiful androgynous youths given to solipsism and taking to anarchy). They interact with the outside world, but this daylight is brief. The world of reality, mundane and repetitive as it is, figures often in Bresson’s imagery. Time is given to the contemplation of mechanical repetition. Paris looks delightful, but is cast in a robotic despair.

As I allude to above, the plot doesn’t really move forward in any sense: the matter at hand isn’t progressed, beyond rumination. The “hero” finds no answers that satisfy him and eventually he decides to act. The Devil, Probably is a difficult and challenging watch – there isn’t much enjoyment to be had in the themes and plot (this is not a cinema of hope and inspiration). Too downbeat for me, it is powerful.

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