picture: Pickpocket by Robert Bresson (1959)
On May 17th 1987, Gilles Deleuze gave a lecture at the FEMIS (most famous school of Cinema in France) that will remain famous. Talking to the students, he elaborates about what does “having an idea in cinema” means and what is an Act of Creation.
The integral text in French and the videos of the lecture in French subtitled in English are available at the end of this article.
A significant part of this lecture has been translated in English by Eleanor Kaufman and published in the book, Deleuze & Guattari: New Mappings in Politics, Philosophy, and Culture (University of Minnesota Press, 1998.)
This translation had for ambition to recreate a coherent piece of discourse from the beginning to the end, however, some very interesting fragments have been forgotten, notably the “chapter” in which Deleuze talks about the cinema of Akira Kurosawa and Robert Bresson.
He uses Kurosawa’s example to describe how to discipline can resonate one from another and how an idea in literature can be translated into an idea in cinema even if the means of expression of this idea are extremely different (see the translation about the differentiation of ideas depending on the discipline). He compares Kurosawa’s films with the written work of Shakespeare and even more specifically Dostoevsky.
In Dostoevsky’s work and especially in The Idiot, the characters are taken into an absolute urgency established by the narrative when suddenly, they linger on a question that seems more important to them:
Mais dans les Sept samouraïs, vous comprenez, ils sont pris dans la situation d’urgence, ils ont accepté de défendre le village, et d’un bout à l’autre, ils sont travaillés par une question plus profonde. Il y a une question plus profonde à travers tout ca. Et elle sera dite à la fin par le chef des samouraïs, quand ils s’en vont “ qu’est-ce qu’un samouraï ?“ Qu’est-ce qu’un samouraï, non pas en général, mais qu’est-ce qu’un samouraï à cette époque là. A savoir quelqu’un qui n’est plus bon à rien. Les seigneurs n’en n’ont plus besoin, et les paysans vont bientôt savoir se défendre tout seul. Et pendant tout le film, malgré l’urgence de la situation, les samouraïs sont hantés par cette question.
(translation by myself…) But in the Seven Samurai, you understand, they are taken in a very urgent situation, they accepted to defend the village and from the beginning to the end, they wonder about a more profound question. There is a more profound question through all that. And it will be said, at the end by the Samurai’s chief, when they go away: “What is a Samurai?” What is a Samurai, not in general, but what is a Samurai at that time. Meaning somebody who is not good for anything anymore. Warlords do not need them anymore, and peasants will very soon be able to defend themselves. And during the entire movie, despite the urgency of the situation, the Samurai are haunted by this question.