Friday, September 13, 2013

Robert Bresson: Au hasard Balthasar

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I am going to review two films by Bresson, the other one ("Diary of a Country Priest") next time. These are not pop corn movies, they are not fun. These are fine films but hard to watch. These are the kind of movies that it hurts to watch, not because they are so bad because they are so good at portraying things that are so bad. These are vegetable films; like a parent says to a kid, "if you want to grow up to be a big strong film buff, shut up and eat your Spinach," the film version of that is to watch these movies.


Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)

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IMBd page summarizes this plot saying no more than this:

"The story of a mistreated donkey and the people around him. A study on saintliness and a sister piece to Bresson's Mouchette." That pretty much says it all. Mouchette is much more enjoyable film from which one might get much more. My review of Mouchette is here.

Bresson did not use professional actors. He got ordinary people to play his characters and he called them "models." Such as the case for this film. An episode of the early 60s Dick Van Dyke show included Van Dyke's character playing in a foreign avaunt guard film that was using only real people for the actors, that was probably patterned after Bresson.

Balthazar is a  donkey (played by the real Donkey--not a professional acting or Donkey). He's so cute when he's young, he looks like Franken-Donkey, with a square forehead and overlapping brow ridge. He's given to a bunch of children for a birthday party. It's clear his life is meant to end soon. He's just a tool to use to make a child happy. He doesn't have a life of his own. The little birthday girl (Marie) loves him and protects him. A boy form the neighborhood steals him to use to pull a cart from which sells wood or something. the girl gets him back. A relationship develops through which the girl is always hounded by the boy who becomes a local bully as he grows up. The Donkey is  always a tool that he uses for his own ends, nothing more, the girl seems to love the Donkey and tries to keep him form the boy's harm.

Over time the boy tries to rape the girl, she fights at first but then when she is clearly in a position to escape he hesitates then submits. Over time she transforms into the opposite of the way she seems. So the bully, now a up and coming thug, had corrupted her. She wants to be abused and used like the Donkey is. The Donkey continues to be used as a mere tool and works very hard. The viewer wishes the Donkey would kick the snot out of hte buly  but of course he never does. The girl rejects her father, runs away from home, craves the bullies abuse and become the exactly opposite of what he had been in her early life.

The Donkey has several owners and he's always being abused. He's separated from Marie for most of his life as she grows up. Whenever she find him again she's happen, she recalls the joy of childhood, she tires to protect the Donkey to re-capture the innocence of youth.There are film critics who see the Donkey, Balthazar, as a Christ figure. Some see him as  a saint figure. "He bears his suffering with nobility and wisdom, becoming a saint in the process," (Wikipedia). One such critic is Joseph Cunneen.[1] Some critics call Bressen an agnostic, but he is said to have been a Catholic and he deals with religion, belief, faith, doubt in many of his films.

[1]Joseph Cunneen, "The Donkey as Witness: Au hasard Balthasar" Robert Bresson: A Spiritual Style in Film. New York: Continuum (2003): 108.

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