Affaires publiques

Bresson's first film is, totally uncharacteristically, a slapstick comedy, centred around two neighbouring republics, Crogandia and Miremia, and the various disasters that befall the ceremonial unveiling of a statue, the launching of a ship, and the crash-landing of a Miremian pilot in Crogandian territory.


Vincent Pinel: What brought you to cinema?

Robert Bresson: I was very attracted to everything that moved in films—the leaves on trees, among other things. I went to the cinema every night. I wanted to make a film myself. My friend Sir Roland Penrose, an associate of the surrealists and, later, the author of a famous book on Picasso, generously gave me the means to make Public Affairs. I don’t remember the exact circumstances any more; so many years have gone by. But I remember very well that my film was not a success and that I was asked to remove the three songs—considered too extravagant—that were there to heighten the tone of the chancellor’s ceremonies. Which I did. But not without diminishing his storyline, and not without eliminating a quantity of images the absence of which, especially in the second and third ceremonies, significantly reduced the length of the film. It was still watchable despite all this, because its subject was less the chancellor’s misfortunes than the refusal of anointed objects to be manipulated.

And the title?

They had also asked me to change that. I refused. The title, which in the end was changed without my knowledge, made the film impossible to find. People have assumed I wouldn’t want to revisit it—my first film, made without experience. To the contrary, I’ve always maintained some affection for it, and more than a little curiosity, so I was thrilled when you told me the good news [of it being re-released]. I knew more or less what it was, but I didn’t know the effect seeing it again would have on me.

Vincent Pinel in conversation with Robert Bresson1


« Le cinéma ne m’intéresse qu’au moment de la création. Tout le reste me paraît absolument nul. Il me serait impossible de commencer un film sans avoir imaginé le scénario. Impossible de traduire l’œuvre d’un étranger : j’aurais trop l’impression d’arrêter un passant pour lui citer les chaussures. Combien d’échecs ne sont-ils pas attribuables à cette absence d’intérêt, à cette impression d’esclavage que donne très souvent le metteur en scène ? J’ai donc fait un film de douze cents mètres puisqu’il fallait ainsi débuter et que je tenais à composer le scénario, à diriger les acteurs, bref, à prendre toutes les responsabilités. Selon moi, les fautes de mise en scène qu’on peut commettre résultent d’un manque de prévision. Or, avant d’entreprendre mon film, je connaissais déjà Les Affaires Publiques par cœur. »

Robert Bresson2

  • 1. Vincent Pinel, “Prelude,” in Bresson on Bresson. Interviews 1943-1983, edited by Mylène Bresson (New York: New York Review Books, 2016). Originally published as “On the Exhumation of Public Affairs,” Cinémathèque français, June 1987.
  • 2. “« Les Affaires Publiques » (de Robert Bresson) film d’actualités imaginaires,” Pour Vous, 30 août 1934. Republié sur le site de La Belle Equipe, 12 mars 2017.