Review: Lancelot du Lac

by Guido Pellegrini

The movie opens with a sword held at a forty-five degree angle pointing at the mossy ground. Then the knight holding the sword swings slowly at his opponent and severs his head and then the decapitated victim falls to the ground and the blood shoots out like a scarlet spray. Other images of improbable violence follow. Once this litany of gruesome comedy is over, there begins a perverse version of the Arthurian legend, where everything is indescribably wrong, like a film projected at the wrong speed or based on discarded outtakes. An aesthetic that never falters, up to the bloody and severely anti-climactic end, an awkward close to parallel the flying heads and reddish squirts of the first scenes.

Lancelot and Guinevere play teenage love games of secrecy for which he looks too old and she too tired, while the round-table knights bicker and split over the legitimacy of this affair and King Arthur paces nearby looking very oblivious and very conscious of passing time and the decline of his court. As all of this develops, everyone walks around in fully-fitted armor clanking about and trying out different colored tights. This obsession with odd and ridiculous details – noisy armor, trippy tights – creates a symphony of sights and sounds that abstract the story, making us worry less about the plot and more about the texture.

Lancelot du Lac finds an underground and deeply satisfying rhythm, so that, even as the story and characters lose all validity and fade into the background of our attention, we find each scene falling into a new logic, one in which annihilation is the motivating force. Lancelot du Lac disassembles itself, shatters the very scenes it sets up as important. A pivotal joust becomes a collection of signs, banners, repeated horn notes, duplicated visual cues, and galloping hoofs. What happens and who is winning seems hardly relevant. Dissected into its constituent parts, the scene doesn’t lose its drama so much as locates it elsewhere: in the order and frequency of colors, sounds, and shapes; in the repetition of movement.

But this movement is no longer a means to meet an objective, only an expression of its own pointless persistence. Back home from failed Crusades, these knights move solely out of habit, worn down as they are by apathy, guilt, numbness, and old age. They have killed and maimed on their travels, losing some of their own along the way. Having returned to Camelot, Arthur inspects the round table and longs for those who are missing. He now finds the table useless, a relic that cannot be revived by its surviving members. This uselessness is pervasive. All those obligations and tournaments and swords and paraphernalia, the whole knightly life, is a hollow performance carried out by actors no longer convinced of their act. Only the fact of movement remains, its intention and meaning having disappeared. We watch to see how far inertia will drag this movement until it finally and fatally crashes.

95/100 - All those obligations and tournaments and swords and paraphernalia, the whole knightly life, is a hollow performance carried out by actors no longer convinced of their act.

Guido Pellegrini

I might look like a cinephile, sound like a cinephile, and watch films like a cinephile, but I'm not sure that I am, in fact, a cinephile. I like to think of myself as some sort of itinerant (and probably lost) traveler who has chosen film as his preferred medium of imaginative flight, and who has in turn chosen imaginative flight as his preferred method of thinking.
  • Christopher Misch

    A humble admission on my part: Lancelot du Lac is actually one of the few of Bresson’s filmography that I have yet to see.

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