Lancelot du Lac: The Worst Movie I've Ever Seen
I've finally found it! The worst movie ever made, in the history of the silver screen. The movie is the 1974 French film Lancelot du Lac, directed by Robert Bresson, which can be watched with English subtitles.
So why am I reviewing this monstrosity? Well, partly so that you don't make the same mistake I did in attempting to watch this horrendous experiment in avant garde cinema. Yes, avant garde, that mysterious genre which sometimes produces rare gems of experimentalism and breaking boundaries. Or, as in the case of this movie, utterly obnoxious adventures in filmmaking which seem to revolve around one single premise: how much can viewers really stand before running screaming out of the room.
This movie does makes one spectacular achievement, however. It goes beyond bad, bothersome, terrible, wretched, irritating, maddening, or infuriating, and is actually a truly painful film to watch.
I've included the intro segment of the movie in case you are a really masochistic person, or just don't believe me. The rest is also available on YouTube. If you make it to the final segment, you'll probably be one of thirty others on YouTube.
Lancelot du Lac is not only annoying, but after forcing yourself to sit through a reasonable portion of it, you realize that the directer actually created it to be deliberately annoying. Yes, that is the point!
However, beyond the annoyance factor, and what makes Lance so truly awful, is that Director Bresson goes so far in exploring symbolic construction that he completely ignores the fact that viewers still expect an element of entertainment in what they watch, no matter how avant garde or experimental the film.
Bresson attempts to create an exercise in unraveling symbolism in order to understand a particular interpretation of the Arthurian legend, but he goes too far in asking the viewer to do all of the work in deciphering his vision. In all of his composition, he forgets the simple, underlying fact that a film is also a presentation.
Possibly the most annoying aspect of the film is every single auditory noise that comes with it. From the screaming of horses, to the incessant clanking of armor, to overly loud bagpipes, the viewer is treated to a cacophony of shrill sounds that do nothing but grate upon the eardrums.
The sense of tension created by the screaming horses eventually turns into irritation. The clanking of armor at first creates a sense of weightiness, one can sense the uselessness of such a convention, the cumbersomeness of the costume, the fact that the knights are turning into something of a relic. Yet well after this impression has been created, Bresson persists in composing scene after scene made up of little more than clanking sounds and a still shot of elements that do little to move the story forward.
To top that off, all of the actors speak in such a mumbling monotone that even a viewer who doesn’t speak French will be irritated. It could possibly be that throughout the entire movie not one single, pleasant sound was recorded. While Bresson obviously had a motivation in creating such a painful soundtrack, the overall effect is more obnoxious than artistic.
With that being said, the use of fixed and close shots is also deliberately annoying. Bresson overuses a fixed, wide shot in which no movement can be seen onscreen, though over-amplified sounds come from off-screen, usually the sound of hoofbeats, footsteps, or armor clanking.
While the overall effect creates a sense of foreboding, since a peasant woman at the beginning of the film has explained that those whose footsteps precede them will die within a year, it is so overdone that the effect quickly becomes dull.
Ultimately, when such a shot is used, it creates a sense of suspense for the viewer, who is waiting for the action to happen. Yet the continued use of these shots is tedious, and the viewer is left with the overall feeling that there is really nothing at all happening in the film.
This is especially the case because of the overuse of tight shots, especially on legs, torsos or feet, which leaves the viewer unable to see what is happening and whom it is happening to. Instead of creating a dissonance between viewer and character, between viewer and the film as Bresson no doubt intended, it simply leaves the viewer completely uninterested in the film.
While Bresson has made an attempt at creating a work that defies established conventions for screenplay, and attempted to tell a story symbolically through sound and limited visuals, unfortunately he only succeeds in alienating viewers through overuse of these techniques.
He is so caught up in using symbolism, repetition, lack of acting, lack of visual image, lack of action, lack of character, and juxtaposition of tension-building sound that he fails to make a presentation that will interest or attract a viewer.
In short, watching Lancelot du Lac is simply an exercise in tedium, with little redeeming value save for the overall interpretation of the Arthurian legend, and might better have been accomplished in an essay, where the audience would not be required to look at or listen to anything created by this sadistic filmmaker who seems intent on simply torturing his audience for an hour and twenty minutes.