Take Edgar Ulmer’s Detour (1945): it starts with Al Roberts in the diner and then uses flashbacks to trace how he got there. In essence, this is the result of a piece of bad luck, a bad meeting that gave him a loser’s life. The final shot of him being picked up by the police, to whom he offers no resistance, is the outcome of his destiny; in running from the police, Roberts was only deferring his fate.
Bresson favoured linear narrative – A then B, then C etc., with the viewer making the mental leaps from one to the next. He does not complicate things with flashbacks: look at the narrative for Les Dames du bois de Boulogne, Mouchette, Lancelot du Lac or L’Argent. But in fact some of the films do very much favour the narrative circularity that flashbacks map out. For a start, Diary of a Country Priest hangs almost the whole story on the priest’s diary entries so that it goes in a series of circles, each act of memory triggering a present-tense narrative.
Other examples abound. In two films, we are told the end first:
In another two, the title tells us the ending:
As well, four of the films could be said to be circular or quasi-circular:
One can add that both Mouchette and L’Argent, while being strongly linear narratives, could have begun with Mouchette’s drowning and Yvon’s arrest and showed the events leading up to them, so that, like Ulmer’s Detour, a sense of inexorability could have been imparted to the narrative. However the intriguing question remains: do Mouchette’s suicide and Yvon’s arrest have to be inevitable?