Though there are worse ways to spend 72 minutes of your life, I’m not sure if Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Impassioned Eye is a preferable alternative to an intimate evening at home flipping through a Cartier-Bresson photo collection. This wispy tribute to the father of photojournalism intercuts interviews with Isabelle Huppert, Arthur Miller, and other luminaries with footage of Cartier-Bresson himself sifting through 70-plus years’ worth of his work. There isn’t much to say about the man’s photography—its innate political sensibility and geometric precision—that isn’t readily deconstructed by his friends, colleagues, and former subjects. In this way, there isn’t much thinking involved when, say, a picture of an impoverished U.S. city street flashes across the screen and Miller eloquently reveals, “America is a place of great extremes, and if you choose to look at the extremes, it can be very tragic.” That said, this hand-holding is never aggressive, and it’s easy to be held captive by the greatness of Cartier-Bresson’s work, especially the occasional still whose meaning isn’t neatly parsed for us, like the 1959 picture of two black men in Washington D.C.—the American Dream denied to African-Americans in this country symbolized in the expansive divide between the two men and the White House in the background. If Cartier-Bresson the man remains elusive throughout it may be because director Heinz Bütler approached his subject as a spirit in transition, using overlapping imagery, the silent pauses between their question-and-answer jam sessions, and footage of the photographer playing the piano to give the documentary the aura of a funeral service. One year after the film was released, Cartier-Bresson passed away at the age of 95.
- Palm Pictures
- 72 min
- Heinz Bütler
- Henri Cartier-Bresson, Isabelle Huppert, Robert Delpire, Elliott Erwitt, Josef Koudelka, Ferdinando Scianna, Arthur Miller
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