Friday, September 13, 2013

Two Films By Robert Bresson: Balthazar and Country Priest

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Both of these are comparable to Bergman's "Winter Light." In other words these are not pop corn movies, they are not fun. 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 the kind of films you to someone who wants to be a "real flim buff," "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 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 tires 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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Film 2: Diary of a Country Priest

Also by Bressen, this is actually his first film, he does use professional actors. The actor in the lead role, was an accomplished actor.
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The young priest moves to the sticks to start his first parish duties. He is overseen by an older Priest who treats the job like a civil service appointment and puts him wise to all the angles in the war with the parishoners, seems to have understanding of why anyone would be a priest  and seems totally non-understanding. He doesn't have a clue as to the motives of the young idealistic priest.

The young priest is highly romantic, channels all his romance into Catholic style devotions and bears a genuine and honest desire to know God and to guide other on the path of knowing God. He makes huge sacrifices no one understands. He goes far out of his way to make sure that various charges in his care accept God in their hearts and truly seek forgiveness and really feel it. All of this is totally ms-interpreted by the village. He has "a sensitive stomach" and hardly eats any food, drinks wife with bread and sugar all the time to stave off hunger and because he stomach can't handle real food. So the town thinks he's a drunk.

He seeks the reconciliation of an older woman with God in heart, since she is embittered by the death of her son form which she blames God. He spends lots of time alone with her trying to get her to forgive God. She does forgive God then dies right after that. Her husband blames the priest just as she had blamed God. The Village concludes that the priest was her lover, after all he is a drunk.  No one understands him, he's totally alone. Those are the good times, just before things go down hill!

These are both excellent movies. As I say watching is like eating spinach, no car crashes no explosions.

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