It seems to me that Bresson was always trying to express his deepest concerns through negation, and this is what we are seeing to a greater degree in his color period. In the Pour le Plaisir
doc, he says, "Art lies in suggestion. The great difficulty for filmmakers is precisely not to show things. Ideally, nothing should be shown, but that's impossible."
So I think expressing "the need for spirituality and redemption" for Bresson was in many ways an expression of spirituality and redemption. I don't mean to be reductive, but I do think his increasing economy and materialism that you identify is part of a rigorous formal experiment to address his concerns. I mean, doesn't it seem to follow according to this line of thinking?
Stéphane: "Balthazar" gives me the impression of a world without God, a world uninterested in God.
Bresson: Firstly, I don't think that just speaking of God or saying the word "God" indicates his presence. If I use a filmmaker's tools to represent a human being, by which I mean someone with a soul, not just a jiggling puppet, if the human is present so is the divine. Pronouncing the name of God isn't what makes him present.
Stéphane: No,but to my knowledge this is your first film where a character--Marie's father--rejects God.
Bresson: If he rejects God, then God exists, and therefore God is present.
Is that isn't affirmation by negation, I don't know what is.
From Les Anges du peche
to Le Procès de Jeanne d'Arc
, his films explicitly included "God talk," but I think as an artist, he felt the need to refine his approach, not remain predictable, and address the subject more obliquely and rooted in teh material world. (Incidentally, that exchange above could also perfectly apply to Lancelot.)
Could he end Balthazar
with his sober death of the donkey? Could he end Mouchette
in his previous exultant fashion but in an unorthodox manner, eg. suicide? Could he end The Devil Probably
with a suicide that is part murder, sans the choral music? Cuold he end L'Argent
with a mass murder? To me, each step seems like a greater formal challenge applied to his consistent theme, not a disinterest in the question.
Interestingly enough, L'Argent
does end with confession and surrender, but it's so underplayed that it doesn't come anywhere near counteracting the horrors witnessed moments before. However, it's there and Bresson told Ciment that he was wished he could have focused more on YVon's redemption, but the "rhythm of the film wouldn't allow it." (Again, a formal conundrum.)
Decribing these endings in this manner may sound a little trite, and I don't mean to reduce them in that way--or imply that my reading is necessarily superior; there is no doubt that his later films are severe and shocking. Bresson certainly trusted ambiguity and mystery and I see no reason to put him in a box. But personally, I don't see his late work as lacking in spiritual concerns. One of his films has a theological statement for a title, after all.