“Lancelot of the Lake” is a demythologized version of Arthurian legend, a kind of “King Arthur” for adults. Bresson focuses on the love affair between Lancelot and Queen Guinevere and on Lancelot’s destiny after his return to the “Round Table” without the Holy Grail.

The knights in the film are shown as quite “modern” in their sensibility; their aspirations are similar with ours today – dreams of power and glory and working on development the talent and courage to achieve it. Lancelot’s mistakes are that of Western civilization in the beginning of 21st century, while Guinevere is a role model for us in her critical stance against the culture of rivalry, competition, wars, heroism and exceptional achievements. Bresson’s Guinevere is not only “early feminist” of our civilization – her Christianity is humanistic and based on sacredness of love.

In Bresson’s film as a radical deconstruction of traditional values, human beings are shown as if hypnotically submerged into the sticky atmosphere of habitual ways of feeling and acting. People follow the call of cultural archetypes somnambulistically, to the apocalyptic end, with a full honor of their high moral grounds – with believes in abstract idolized ideals, dedication to them and self-sacrifice for their sake. With a stylistic clairvoyance Bresson exposes the spiritual experiences of warrior-knights as a vain and self-aggrandizing quest for final invulnerability and ontological plenitude, and their orientation on valor and heroism as a childish naiveté with machoistically masochistic flavor. Bresson debunks morality even of the noblest among the knights, people as Lancelot as a loyalty to the group with a shared fetish (their common goal) and identity, their concept of beauty as a profane aestheticism of banners, knights’ colorful tights and horses’ saddles, their idea of glory as a worshipful sacrifice of their own and other people’s bodies, and their understanding of mastery as an expertise in battle.

While the radiant spirituality is mocked by Bresson as the shining of armors and weapons, only among the exceptional female characters we can see a perspective on psychological maturity and existential spirituality, but by the price of women’s cultural infertility and isolation. Guinevere’s attempt of love Lancelot – to find an alternative to her husband, egomaniac and warmonger, is ended in defeat. King Arthur’s militant values are victorious, and Lancelot moved by the honor of military comradery, returns Guinevere to Arthur. Peasant old woman who successfully nurtured Lancelot’s wounds after the decisive tournament is seriously disappointed with knights’ infantile militancy.

It is the horses’ eyes and the shy sound of their neigh – “obsessive” motif of the film – become sign of ontological home, unrecognized by people obsessed with and betrayed by their dream of possessing power over otherness, life and death (the dream our culture today shamefully and tragically shares with Lancelot, Arthur, Gawain and other knights, except with so much more destructive capability).

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Film poster of Bresson’s film with King Arthur (on the right) and one of the “greatest knights” in history and charismatic person – Lancelot

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Quest for the “Holy Grail“ wasn’t like searching for mushrooms or berries with tournaments in between – it was uninterrupted war between rivals for getting the grail with Christ’s blood – not only a symbol of immortality but remedy from mortality.

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The path towards glory and ultimate invulnerability to death (immortality) leads from one fight to another, and courage and will for victory reward the soldiers with success. Victory is glorious but death is honorable. Victory and death, Glory and Honor are twins. To die with one or another in your grip is equally worthy and deserves admiration here and god’s reward after.

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To lose in the battle your head means to keep your heart. But to lose on the battlefield your head and your heart means to keep your soul. The “knight-soldiers of Christ” can never lose. People dedicate to them their songs. But Bresson’s film is an exception – it’s not only not glorifying the Round Table. It deconstructs it as a moral and cultural perversion of anti-humanism under the banner of religion of love, that we today share with its knights.

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Impressively looking – noble, machoistic, courageous, with positive aura and even intelligent – Gawain (on the left), Lancelot (in the center) and Arthur

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The real hero of the film is its heroine – Queen Guinevere who, by sincerely loving Lancelot, tried to change the direction of her kingdom away from the endless wars to peace, prosperity, nurturing life and human will to live. But she overestimated Lancelot – she thought that his honesty and sincerity and absence of envy and meanness are enough to pull him away from fight for power and passion to win. But he remains on the side of fight not because of evilness, but because of… goodness. He joins Arthur against the common enemies because he choses military friendship over love for woman and peace. He prefers personal immortality to love, the masculine sharing of power to contemplative life of peace.

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Guinevere has to be returned to Arthur – the dream of her life: to be liberated from Arthur and all that he represents, and to stay with Lancelot is shattered. Her world is darkened, as it’s shown in this shot. According to Bresson, Guinevere was the carrier of feminist values many centuries before feminism was established. But today many feminists have come to just imitate men in their aggressive careerism. Did they achieve pacification of the atmosphere of life inside democratic countries and in the international arena?

Posted on Aug, 28 2012 –   Robert Bresson’s “Lancelot of the Lake” (1975) – Critical but Still a Too Flattering Reflection of Today’s Condition of Western Culture in Mirror-Lake of its Past by Acting-Out Politics