We have to wait until the last images of Happy Times Will Come Soon, directed by Alessandro Comodin, to face the concrete evidence of its declared homage to the bressonian iconography: the hand of the prisoner that holds on to the cell grids. The influence was announced deceitfully here and there, but with this final image, the same gesture endowed with metaphysical expressiveness in Pickpocket (1959), it becomes a frontal and evident mention, a dialogue with a certain cinematographic tradition and, at the same time, an urge of revision and actualization.
And they´re the hands, the body members that elevates themselves from the material to a state of life in Pickpocket, the most recurrent close shot in this that may as well be a movie about hands or that, in the very least, makes of it an object of study. The hands of the bressonian thief, resting and peeking, exercising itself repeated times to acquire the dexterity for the robbery, rising meticulously its own technique; the hands that will participate in a synchronized ballet at the crime scenes, making the seminal gesture of thievery a semi-spectacle; these same hands will end locked up and holding the grids, having, at last, found out the purpose of its journey. The hand is the organ of the action – that which acts and concretizes – and the effort to develop its mastery with the purpose of displaying its own ability will conduce man to nothingness. Only through the jail bars, at the same time a pronounced limit and the only diaphanous possible that simultaneously marks the distance and glimpses possibilities, holding on to them, subordinated to them, not without a certain despair or obsession, the hands finally meets the untouchable divine. Bresson makes of these hands the existential dilemma of a world where technique has become the scapegoat for the inanity of the pure presence.
Notwithstanding frontally invoking the bressonian image, it is possible that Happy Times Will Come Soon has no other frames of hands. Comodin built a grid in the visiting room of a prison to elaborate it. The remaining of the film, however, is the portrait of the aimless meandering of its characters, and this meandering spirit is what dictates the form of the film – we don´t have the practice or work of the hands, the urge to give them materiality or life, nor the effort to take it as part of a whole. What we have is something else: figures wandering around randomly in a forest, in shots not at all pictorial, invoking a certain precariousness in its composition and in the use of darkness; the focus of the shots and sound layers on impressionistic surface effects; the emptying of dramaturgy, in narrative sense as well as psychological, leading us to note the gratuity of their acts; almost stupid characters, at first sight, not interesting at all and who have nothing much important to say – what is said, is said through the simple materiality of the word; in a rhythm following little or nothing the logic of the events, but also not proposing an open game of ambience or a relationship with the particular time of that forest; conducing us, in the end, to a feeling of nothingness.
What actually is going on is that this young protagonist is not the same proficient and doomed thief looking for a meaning to his life. This one suffers more than creates or searches. His hands are not particularly trustworthy, not even to hold a rifle. Happy Times Will Come Soon begins practically when Tomasso (Erikas Sizonovas) is free, in the opposite condition of that of the pickpocket. In a certain way, all of the nihilist wondering that characterizes the first part of the movie – his meandering with Arturo (Luca Bernardi) through forests, groves, caves and mountains; the hunt for food and firearm games; the dramaturgy of motiveless fights and exaggerated yells – it all indicates a path configured to nowhere that is suddenly terminated by the death of the protagonist. All of these things somehow address his state, characterized by a mixture of inability, lethargy towards life, an almost alienation of his own self. Because, from what we gather regarding what Happy Times Will Come Soon seems to make of the bressonian criminal, the divine revelation is the end result of a process that requires a culmination, when the hands reach its limits of action and meets the bars; escaping them and abdicating using these same hands is somewhat the same as diving in a catatonic state, in a desert where little or nothing make sense.
Of course, none of these is said with such clarity. No matter how much an artist means to talk or report to us in a certain way, art always ends up doing it in some other, putting itself in the world at the same time as a perpetual charade, and on the other, as a sketch. May be that is the reason why Happy Times Will Come Soon, as well as many other contemporary films, embrace incoherence as an attempt to give the world a meaning – not exactly from a Dadaist-anarchist point of view, wrecking the idea of coherence itself, but fundamentally through narrative congestion, believing that the strength and the meaning of a work of art do not need to be given in an unique time and space, repeating the same forms and elements; that it is not through moral laws or rational motivations, or even in sublimation that reality reveals itself to mankind, but that something happening in a specific historical moment might be explicated through its relations of identity and difference with something happening at another; that deepening one or another plot is not anymore important than sketching many; that art, at last, does not have to be syncretic to have unity.
But before that, regarding the hands of the bressonian prisoner in that image we were mentioning before, there´s a belief that the epiphany cannot be handled or manipulated. It is only a glimpse or a vision. This idea will firmly inspire the second part of Happy Times Will Come Soon, somewhat explaining, through the same logic through entropy in which the movie operates, what was the origin of those characters at the first part, putting it self as founding myth reincarnated, since it seems to happen in a future time. Tomasso will reappear as the legendary figure, incarnating a wolf that terrorizes the same forest and whose object of desire is the woman wondering through it. He may not touch her. He only looks at her. The style is now slightly different: from interviews about the lupine legend, we go to meticulous travelling cameras watching the walks of Ariane in an evident attempt of plasticity and a much more rigorous construction, aspiring a kind of beauty that contradicts the efforts of the first part. This beauty reaches its summit as Ariane walks naked in a lake to bathe herself and Tomasso circles her, ready to strike.
The bressonian iconography serves not as a mere quote. Nor is it simply a tribute. It is the reason of birth of the narrative itself; more than inspiration, it is an image of a hidden meaning, which Happy Time Will Come Soon attempts to update. But he does it when such able hands do not exist anymore; where the technical mastery is not a horizon or criteria; where the prisoner is now someone else, a lost person without references or a past, who wonders aimlessly and barely knows how to use his own hands, whose “worst disgrace is coming from nowhere at all”. It is not a coincidence that the hands of the prisoner concluding the film, Tomasso behind the bars, are the moment of paroxysm, as well as the conclusion tying the laces – as much as possible – of the maze we´ve been through. It is this image that unites the fable of Ariane to the anterior moment of forest wondering, pointing, from one point of view, a chronological entropy, and from the other, the feeling that we’re in a cyclic time. The important thing here is may be not trying to put things in order, but to participate in the movie’s curvature, one that reveals or suggests us a relationship in between the parts.
Differently from the 1959´s movie, the bars are not the element participating in the game of divineness and the limits of action. It is simply opaque. The bressonian hands has its own history, its own journey until it finds itself impeded and illuminated, and that is why the pickpocket, when receiving the girly visit, tells himself how much impressed he has been by the strange ways he had to go through to reach such place. The inadequate protagonist of Comodin, on the other hand, has no history and no past, does not know how to use his hands, and does not know where he came from: his essential condition is looking at the sublimated object and not being able to touch it. And may be the reason is that this primordial fragility has caused atrophy in the hands. If we were to trace a history of hands in cinema (an enterprise of Harun Farocki in Expression of the hands), may be here we´d meet, in the appropriation that Comodin makes of Bresson, the mirror of its limits and absolute failure. And Happy Times Will Come Soon, with all of its imperfectness and frequent appearance of a simulation and compendium of contemporary cinema, succeeds very well in extracting from this appropriation its most vital consequences, or at least the ones that may very well interest contemporary human beings, and, as a consequ