Devil, Probably (1977): Robert Bresson’s Great, Controversial Film

The most controversial film of Robert Bresson’s career, The Devil, Probably (“Le diable probablement”) was prohibited to viewers under the age of 18 in France, not because of sex or violence, but because it was seen as encouraging the act of suicide.

At the Berlin Film Festival, where the film received its premiere and was controversially denied the Grand Prize, Rainer Werner Fassbinder threatened to walk off the jury if their support for the film was not made public. Fassbinder declared “the questions Bresson asks will never be unimportant.”

Played by Antoine Monnier, an unprofessional actor in his only film role who was also the great-grandson of Henri Matisse and who inspired the title of Dennis Cooper’s debut novel, the film’s single-minded protagonist wanders around Paris looking for a reason not to kill himself—politics, religion, environmentalism, drugs, psychoanalysis—and ultimately finds non. Made when Bresson was in his seventies, The Devil, Probably is an indelible portrait of tormented youth.

For some critics, it is Bresson’s best film since “Pickpocket.” Richard Roud, director of the New York Film Festival, said at the time: “You comes out of the film with a sense of exultation. When a civilization can produce a work of art as perfectly achieved as this, it is hard to believe that there is no hope for it.”