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Henri de Maublanc
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Guillaume des Forêts,
A million miles away from 'Camelot' or 'Excalibur', this film ruthlessly strips the Arthurian legend down to its barest essentials. Arthur's knights, far from being heroic, are conniving ... See full summary »
Laura Duke Condominas,
This is the story of a donkey and the somewhat difficult life it leads. During a summer holiday, the baby donkey is a child's pet but when they return home, it begins it's life of misery. It works as a farm animal, pulling a delivery cart and working as any manner as various owners require of it. Meanwhile, the young girl who first acquired Balthazar as a pet grows up, only to be badly treated herself by an indifferent and selfish boyfriend.Written by
This film is part of the Criterion Collection, spine #297. See more »
The "for Sale" sign that is on the fence when Balthazar runs through the gate is different to the one seen in close-up. Also, when he runs through the gate, the sign is in shadow but in close-up it is in full sun. See more »
Don't you believe in anything?
I believe in what I own. I love money. I hate death.
You'll die like everyone else.
I will bury them all.
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beautiful in its lyricism, Bresson's Au hasard Balthazar is original and poignant
Maybe I'm not as completely overwhelmed with the work of the immensely revered director Robert Bresson as others are, and I almost wish I was more so. I do know from the other films I have seen of his- Pickpocket and A Man Escaped- that he is one of the superior craftsmen of his time in France, a veritable storyteller with a very precise, original craftsmanship and way about telling his stories that shows compromise is nowhere in sight. However I don't think, try as I might (and I do love other films that do evoke religious connotations and metaphors like with Dreyer and Rossellini's films, which perhaps aren't as heavy-handed), to soak into all of the allegory of it all.
When it comes down to it, Au hasard Balthazar is a kind of fable, and it is successful even as some of the Christian connections are lost on me. It is strongest at being a dramatic look at two lives where drama doesn't need to be put to highest heights or given a shot of adrenaline. There's almost something very worn down about the characters- as well as the donkey Balthazar- that is the best part of what Bresson does try to draw parallels to. His direction might be un-easy to get along with, but it is rewarding in a cathartic way too.
Much has been written about Balthazar being a kind of saintly figure, or Jesus, who suffers all of his life and then at the end dies a sorrowful death for, perhaps, everyone else's sins. But if that side of reading into it isn't really suiting, and you're looking for just a really well-told story (which is really all a fable can do), the donkey's- and Marie's (Anne Wiazemesky) story does take on a neo-realist side to it too. It's the everyday things that count in this world, and act as burdens that don't give people the kind of life and enjoyment they could have.
While Bresson maybe doesn't have his great strengths in much of the dialog, his direction of the actors, which involved multiple takes to the point of (as with the donkey) beating the life out of it, is quite unique. Like with Pickpocket, you can tell something is so suppressed with them, even with the careless young man who Marie falls in love with- and later leaves- and the unfortunate drunk who 'takes care of Balthazar for a while, that it's no wonder nothing happy ever really comes to any of them. Also, the body language is so distinct and powerful that it really makes the uncomplicated nature of the photography and editing work that much more so. Turn the sound off and it might not even make a difference (what with lack of music)
Two of my favorite scenes might likely be two of the best scenes I've ever seen from the few Bresson films I've seen. One is when Balthazar has a brief stint in a circus, and it's interesting to see how the simplistic nature of the story reaches, for once, an almost ironically amusing point in this scene. For a moment you're pulled into that illusion of a Disney movie- where an animal is meant to be more like us, but then once reality comes back in it wipes that all away. The other scene is during a dance in a bar, where everyone's bopping away to a jazz song, and the young man mentioned before, throws bottles and causes a ruckus, but no one seems to stop dancing at all.
Are they too, who should be having a good time, that numbed by their lives to not be shook up by the disturbances around them? It is a film that really does get you thinking once it ends, about how small-town society treats things in very set ways that make some like Marie want to just get out. There's an undercurrent in the story of money being an integral- and hurtful- part of the world, where pride and suffering gets mixed up in it too. But most striking when watching the film are the scenes with the donkey, who punctuates the un-wavering methods of those around him (who very rarely are actually kind and happy around him, aside from the kids early on). These scenes display Bresson utilizing his storytelling and skills with poignancy that, if you can identify with the innocent(s) of the story, is kind of mind-blowing.
Even if the film is possibly imperfect, it nevertheless left me feeling I had seen something special. Few filmmakers can get away today with putting together a tragic story and pulling parallels between a worker animal and a misguided young woman and how others out there try to live every day. It's a brave movie more often than not that might hit (and has hit) other viewers both young and old alike. Grade: A
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