Four Nights of a Dreamer

Four Nights of a Dreamer ★★★½

Lonely hearts search for love, but not real, true love; merely the idea of love. Their idealism is what drives them. Lost souls rendezvous, make gestures of longing and discuss their lives both past and present. And yet, when what they are both sure of is brought into question, then back into certainty, what are they left with? Musal inspiration for the artist and security for the pining lover.

Four Nights of a Dreamer sees Bresson taking a stab at Dostoyevsky’s “White Nights”. Unlike in Visconti’s Le Notti Bianche—another adaptation of the work—Bresson opts for more meditative ruminations on love, rather than the melodrama of Visconti’s take on the story. This is mostly done visually, as Bresson’s transcendental lens captures passing glances, parts of bodies and minuscule details. He hangs on objects, faces, hands held tightly; all as a means of conveying the fragmented idea of love that our characters possess. They don’t know what they want, only that they want. Our male protagonist Jacques is not what you’d call likable. He’s whiny and filled with angst, looking for something, unaware of what or who that is. I think inspiration is what he seeks, though he seems to be under the impression that it is love. Marthe, on the other hand, is stronger and a bit more sure of what she wants, and she believes she had found it in a lover for whom she has been waiting a year to return to her. When he never shows, she begins to develop romantic feelings for Jacques, in spite of her love for her past beau. Eventually, she finds her old love, and promptly embraces him, leaving Jacques high and dry. But he has gained perspective from this short time with Marthe, and tries to channel it into his painting.

We don’t know if either person will wind up with what they truly desire, or if they’re even aware of what that is past a fleeting lust. Bresson does not fall into the Hollywood romantic trope of leaving us feeling either uplifted or deminished. Instead, he leaves us quiet; stuck in a haze that resembles a fog over a Parisian eve. Uncertainty about how to feel for these characters past the obvious annoyance with Jacques and questions of motive for Marthe took me out of the film to an extent. Beyond that, there is lots to like and room for subjectivity in what you take away from Four Nights of a Dreamer. Do the images we’ve seen mean a lesson learned? Experience gained will be interpreted differently by every person involved, and I think that is important to remember when viewing this film. It’s almost cryptic, so much so that I’m having trouble even talking about it, so I’ll stop now. But if you are looking for slow, contemplative cinema that forces you to look inward while observing the characters, seek this one out.

Jerry McGlothlin liked these reviews