Film: Double Bill

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The Independent Culture
John Hillcoat, Director of `To Have and To Hold' on his Ideal Cinematic Pairing

The Night of the Hunter Dir. Charles Laughton (1955) Pickpocket Dir. Robert Bresson (1959)

I AM consistently surprised by The Night of the Hunter. This was Charles Laughton's first and only venture into directing. It was slammed at the time - I think it was even banned. It's an unusual and terrifying film, and was based on the book of the same name.

Robert Mitchum plays a preacher who is also a serial killer. The struggle between good and evil is centered around children, which gives it a nightmarish feel; a combination of children's fairy tale and adult.

The lighting and design are expressionistic and subjective - a very brave film style. As well as having a lot of emotional impact and working on many levels, it is an allegory of the struggle between good and evil. Most striking is its unflinching depiction of horror, with none of the usual sophisticated, liberal glossing that often happens when treating such subject matter. In terms of its uniqueness, it has been considered as startling as Citizen Kane. It is also a tragic film in the sense that Laughton should have been encouraged to do many, many more films. Its style is a one-off that no one has ever managed to rival.

Pickpocket is probably the antithesis of the Laughton film in terms of being austere, with realism stripped to a minimalist style. It is extremely subtle and restrained; for me this makes it is the most radical of Bresson's films.

Bresson is known for his dark, Catholic films, but remarkably, there is no overly religious imagery. It just deals with the essence of exterior reality. Psychological explanation is avoided. Even the actors are non-professionals to ensure they don't try to self-consciously emote. It is a stripping away of all the devices we are used to, yet it manages to create an excessive, even sexual, tension.

The pickpocket is like a Dostoevsky character, driven by obsession and with a fetishistic side to his thieving. The amazing thing about Bresson's films is that by doing so little and keeping it simple, they have a power no one has ever been able to get near.

Pickpocket shows an austere exterior world through which it magnifies the interior, whereas The Night of the Hunter has an interior world already realised in the exterior. In their extremes of style, both have enormous impact on emotional, intellectual and even spiritual levels. It seems that both films could be imitated with a few simple tricks, yet no one has succeeded. Both films are unique; they continue to grow in reputation, and will still be around in another 100 years.

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