One might be quick to blame the black and white photography, which is atrocious in every sense of the word. And one wonders why M. Bresson did not just stick with pure white photography, as was popular at the time. It's also easy to blame the acting, especially from the donkey who lacks presence completely and drags the film to halts at time of emotional eruption. The blame, however, lies heavily on the thighs of the director, M. Bresson, who was notorious for his psychological problems, particularly his religious hang-ups.
Here guess-work is only possible at what could possibly be going through M. Bresson's head as he brought this film to life. Clues lie in the diary he left us, curiously titled "Notes on Cinematography." In it, M. Bresson expresses a bitter distaste for the theatrical and says that it must be separated from the cinematic. It's strikingly odd, then, that M. Bresson would use theatrical traditions in all of his films, including this one ("Au hasard Balthazar"). That is, he is filming performances, staged with the utmost diligence and practice, establishing the uniquely theatrical 4th wall, and relying on theatrical narrative techniques. Why all this theater in a mind of anti-theater? Why all this theater in a medium that is rich with other possibilities of sight and sound? We can only wonder what went through this shattered head as it pieced together this film.
So perhaps it is possible to fight the opinion of the critics... It seems there is worth in this film; specifically, it is worth a glimpse into a psychically traumatized brain. Although there are many more examples of traumatized brains that are more clear and disturbing than this. In fact, on second thought, this film even fails to illustrate M. Bresson's warped thought-process as clearly as his other efforts do (try "L'Argent" for instance). Alas, it seems that my effort to redeem this picture from the painful words of the critics has failed. Perhaps it is easier to give up. Perhaps they are right. Perhaps... Yes, I must agree with them. This film is worthless to everyone. There is no worth here.
~nobly *stamped* by the RG Reviewers Tradition~