Aphorisms for a Spiritual Style in Film


Robert Bresson – realism, the vulgar imitation of nature.

Geoff Hall – Mainstream cinema has followed the imitative method with its filming of ‘nature’.  A spiritual style follows a more poetic, allusive method of re-presentation.

Robert Bresson – Displaying everything condemns CINEMA to cliché, obliges it to display things as everyone is in the habit of seeing them. Failing which, they would appear false or sham.

GH – a poetic style is not based on abstractions, but percepts. The spiritually attuned filmmaker does not deal in an ‘other-worldly’ game of affectatious vagueness, with the will to occlude what is actually a ‘this-worldly’ experience. The visual metaphor is a percept, not an abstract concept. The concept in modern art is whittled down to a personal conversation, in which the inner logic is entirely subjective. The gap between what the artist says they do and are actually doing has never been greater. The art college is nothing more than a sausage factory, exalting the tyranny ‘technique’. It is not about a radical art which can bring about change, but as Jacques Ellul has written, “You are at liberty to seek your salvation as you understand it, provided you do nothing to change the social order.” (Quoting Dr Goebbels)  He adds, “All technicians without exception are agreed on this dictum.”

Jacques Ellul – The very assimilation of ideas into a technical framework which renders them materially effective makes them spiritually worthless.

Robert Bresson – there are two types of film: those that employ the resources of the theatre (actors, direction etc.) and use the camera to ‘reproduce’; those that employ the resources of cinematography and the use of the camera.

GH – Theatrical films capture a mannered performance; its raison d’être is to suspend time, so that the viewer is offered an escape from the harsh realities of a culture bereft of spirituality.

Robert Bresson – Nothing rings more false in a film than that natural tone of the theatre copying life and traced over studied sentiments.

GH – A spiritual style in film is not a means to escape reality, of disengagement, but of connecting with reality in a deeper way, offering the possibility of cultural transformation.

Andrei Tarkovsky – We can express our feelings regarding the world around us either by poetic or by descriptive means. I prefer to express myself metaphorically. Let me stress: metaphorically, not symbolically. A symbol contains within itself a definite meaning, certain intellectual formula, while metaphor is an image. An image possessing the same distinguishing features as the world it represents. An image — as opposed to a symbol — is indefinite in meaning. One cannot speak of the infinite world by applying tools that are definite and finite. We can analyse the formula that constitutes a symbol, while metaphor is a being-within-itself…It falls apart at any attempt of touching it.

GH – With the word Renaissance, some tend to read ‘Christian’ into it. The Renaissance however, was a Humanist movement with a different worldview. If we look at the Icon as a symptomatic of each, we will see a difference in perspective. The Renaissance icon is a synthesis of Christian symbolism and Humanist perspective, which recedes ‘into’ the canvas or panel, allowing the viewer – aspirant – to enter another world; escaping the corrupt earthly realm and entering a pure heavenly one. This is the perspective of disengagement from the earthly, physical reality. Byzantine perspective was founded on a different movement of perspective: that of the icon emerging into our world to establish, form, a presence. It extends beyond the picture plane, penetrating our space and tells us we are not alone. It is an art of presence, as opposed to absence, which embraces physical reality.

Robert Bresson – Obvious travelling (tracking) or panning shots do not correspond to the movements of the eye. This is to separate the eye from the body. (One should not use the camera as if it was a broom).

Krzysztof Kieslowski – If you haven’t got your own compass within yourself which clearly points you in a certain direction, then you won’t find it. And it doesn’t depend on any film school or anything you might learn in film school.

Walter Brueggemann – We now know that human transformation does not happen through didacticism or through excessive certitude, but through the playful entertainment of another scripting of reality that may subvert the old given text and its interpretation and lead to the embrace of an alternative text and its redescription of reality.

Krzysztof Kieslowski – I don’t film metaphors. People only read them as metaphors. That’s what I want. I always want to stir people to something.

GH – Concept is understood through an inner logic, the percept through the senses, i.e. through light and sound. The percept is at the heart of the spiritual film, it gives us the opportunity to embrace what we have understood in an act of perception. It captures our imagination, offers hope and the possibility of redeeming the evil of the day.


Arseniy Tarkovsky – saw the poet as someone ‘who could measure time and walk through it as if it were a landscape’. (Natasha Synessios, ‘Mirror’, IB Tauris Books).

GH – The poetic filmmaker offers the viewer a journey together on the same basis. It is not a reverie, but a meditation with the purpose of transforming the world in us, before we attempt the transformation of the world outside of us.

Krzysztof Kieslowski – On ‘The Double Life of Véronique.’ A fairly clear picture arose from these changes and frequent screenings and the film took shape. Only then did we start to work on the detail, look for cuts, a rhythm, atmosphere.

Robert Bresson – The omnipotence of rhythms. Nothing is durable but what is caught up in rhythms. Bend content to form and sense to rhythms.

GH – A spiritual style of film creates a sense of temporal movement within each scene. Theatrical film fractures time through multiple, rapid edits. ‘Montage ad absurdum’, leading not to ‘realité’, but to a pastiche of reality.

Robert Bresson – To TRANSLATE the invisible wind by the water it sculpts in passing.


GH – Sound shouldn’t fill in the gaps from poor dialogue, or add tension where the cinematographer is unable to. Sound should add texture to what we see.

Robert Bresson – What is for the eye must not duplicate what is for the ear.


GH – There is a difference between character and caricature. Character is what you get when the actor offers you their humanity. Caricature is what happens when the illusion of reality replaces the actor’s incarnation of the role.

Krzysztof Kieslowski – “the actors have to bring something to the character, otherwise it is superficial, a façade which people can see through. When the actor brings something to the character it is honest, an incarnation of the writer’s intent.”

GH – There is no hero or anti-hero: there is only flesh and blood, heart and soul humanity.

Andrei Tarkovsky – on poetic style – I believe I could be situated within the tendency [of] poetic cinema, because I don’t follow a strict narrative development and logical connections. I don’t like looking for justifications for the protagonist’s actions.