Built around a series of informal interviews with the notoriously reclusive "father of photojournalism," the late Henri Cartier-Bresson, Swiss filmmaker Heinz Butler's wispy documentary is a thing of fleeting glimpses and long digressions. Butler persuaded Cartier-Bresson to free-associate while leafing through his own work, focusing on pictures taken from the '40s through the '60s, and his comments and reminiscences range from the startlingly incisive to the banal like listening to your aging grandpa rambling about family snapshots, assuming they included pictures of Mexican whores, Russian workers, the liberation of Paris and Mahatma Gandhi on his funeral pyre. Butler beefs up Cartier-Bresson's own words with lengthy observations by actress Isabelle Huppert and playwright Arthur Miller, both of whom he photographed; Miller also talks at length about the luminous shots Cartier-Bresson took of Miller's then-wife Marilyn Monroe, while she was filming THE MISFITS (1961). Butler also gives a platform to the photographer's colleagues, including Elliott Erwitt, Josef Koudelka and the voluble Italian Ferdinando Scianna, all close associates and members of the world-famous Magnum Photo Agency Cartier-Bresson founded in 1947 with Bill Vandivert, Robert Capa, George Rodger and David "Chim" Seymour. Cartier-Bresson studied painting before turning to photography, and in his later years stopped taking pictures entirely and returned to drawing, offering his voluminous sketchpads as proof. He talks about the "decisive moment," that instant when every part of an image falls into alignment and is either captured or lost, and his belief that the alignment of the head, the eye and the heart produces resonant images only by combining intelligence, artistic vision and empathy can photography transcend mere picture-taking. He shares his theory of portraiture no posing, just spending time with the subject until his or her guard is down and does a spot-on impersonation of sculptor Alexander Calder, one of his many celebrity subjects. Overall, it's like watching a home movie of a charming relative, and since Cartier-Bresson died shortly after filming was completed, at age 95, it stands as a rare record of the thoughts and mannerisms of a man who lived through the camera but preferred to avoid its all-seeing eye.
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- Released: 2006
- Rating: NR
- Review: Built around a series of informal interviews with the notoriously reclusive "father of photojournalism," the late Henri Cartier-Bresson, Swiss filmmaker Heinz Butler's wispy documentary is a thing of fleeting glimpses and long digressions. Butler persuaded… (more)