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I once met Robert Bresson.  This was in 1984.  I had recently moved to Paris and had just seen "L'Argent" in an almost empty theater (there was only one other person in the room).  Seeing it was one of those mind-blowing experiences, and I immediately decided that it was the greatest film ever made.  I was staying with a friend at the time who, hearing me gush on and on, told me she had Bresson's phone number and that I should call him and tell him myself.  I phoned immediately, and he answered the phone.  I explained to him that I was an American filmmaker visiting Paris and, after gushing about his film, asked if I could meet him.  For some reason he said yes, and invited me to come visit him the next day at his apartment.

            His apartment was surprisingly modest, its walls crammed from floor to ceiling with books.  A pretty, youngish woman who I assumed to be his wife darted in and out throughout our conversation.  When I asked him what other filmmakers he liked, he replied that he hated all of contemporary cinema.  I was taken aback.  He hated everyone?  He said yes, but also added that he hadn't seen a film in twenty years.  I found this hard to believe.  He then admitted that he had in fact seen two films in the last twenty years, films that he had been dragged to by his friends who insisted that he had to see the work of this particular director.  "Which director?" I asked.   He couldn't remember the director's name, but he described (with great aversion) both films to me.  "You mean "Rear Window?" I said.  "Rear Window" by Hitchcock?  And "Rope?"  -  "That's his name, Hitchcock!" Bresson exclaimed.  I was stunned.  You didn't like "Rear Window" I asked.  "I hated it." he replied.  "Everything in it was fake.  Nothing was real."  - "But it's an allegory," I retorted.  -  "Exactly!" he answered triumphantly.  "It's an allegory.  I hate allegories." 

            I was thrown by this comment, being myself at the time a lover of allegories.  So I changed the topic, and asked him what he was working on.  He told me he was writing a new book on film, a kind of sequel to his first book (this sequel has yet to see the light of day).  He also told me how hurt he was by the insinuations of certain film critics that the only reason he had cast the Minister of Culture's daughter in "L'Argent" was in order to obtain financing from the Ministry of Culture.  I, of course, had no idea that he had even cast the Minister of Culture's daughter in the film, let alone that there had been any controversy.  He insisted that he had cast the Minister of Culture's daughter because she had been the best person for the part, and that it had absolutely nothing to do with her being the daughter of the Minister of Culture.  It saddened me to hear Bresson defending himself to me, a neophyte filmmaker with no reason to question his sincerity. 

            When I left his apartment, he asked me to be sure to shut the gate on my way out.  I assured him that I would.  As I walked down the stairs, he called out to make sure not to forget to shut the gate.  I assured him I would remember.  As I reached the gate and opened it, he called out to me again to make sure the gate was shut before leaving.  I reassured him one last time, then walked through the gate and shut it behind me with a heavy heart.         

Shutting the Gate

by: Caveh Zahedi 

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