Thursday, August 21, 2014
457. Au Hasard Balthazar/Balthazar (1966)
Running Time: 95 minutes
Directed By: Robert Bresson
Written By: Robert Bresson
Main Cast: Anne Wiazemsky, Francois Lafarge, Phillippe Asselin, Nathalie Joyaut, Walter Green
Click here to view the trailer
So here's the deal boys & girls, I know I said that I was going to try to make August a heavy work load month as it pertains to THE BOOK, but it's proving more difficult than I thought. The thing is, is that I'm starting to lose some of my passion for this project. Now, don't get me wrong, I have EVERY intention of finishing and I promise, I will not quit. However, at this point, I'm a bit burnt out and even a hiatus isn't going to help. I even hate admitting this publicly, but loyal readers deserve some explanation as to why my posts have been fewer and farther between as of late. Also, as I've mentioned, I've recently been promoted at work and that comes with more work and a bit more stress. By the time nine or ten o'clock rolls around, I'm in no condition to tackle a film. My weekends are Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but that's also my wife's weekend and believe it or not, she enjoys spending time with me and I her. Therefore, unless I have a BOOK movie that she's particularly interested in, I have to take time away from her to watch a movie and then write a review, which takes approximately three hours, all total. I have no doubt that my passion for THE BOOK will return, but as far as me finding the time to watch and review, I think for now we'll just have to rely on my weekends and off days hope you guys are content with one, maybe two reviews per week. Now then...
BRESSON WEEK: THE FINAL CHAPTER
Oy vey. I can't say I'm sad to see Bresson Week come to an end, I can tell you that. I was a huge fan of A Man Escaped, a film which I'm sure will have a prominent spot on my next TOP 20, but other than that I was really let down by Bresson's body of work, at least that which was represented in THE BOOK. Balthazar was no exception...
It seems I've said this often with the Robert Bresson films, but plot wise, there isn't much to tell about this one. The film begins with two children begging their father to buy them a particular baby donkey. The father finally gives in and soon we learn that one of the children is Marie, who loves him very much and treats his as such. She names him Balthazar and at first, the two are inseparable. However, as time goes by, the two take separate paths and soon Balthazar finds himself being handled by a nasty young man named Gerard, who beats him and treats him badly. Later, just as Gerard and company are about to put Balthazar down because he's sicl, an accused murderer offers to take him. The murderer turns into a drifter and claims that life on the road heals Balthazar, who is showing signs of improvement. The accused man treats Balthazar fairly well until one evening when he gets drunk and beats Balthazar, sending him running. The donkey then finds himself in the hands of a circus owner, who puts Balthazar into the show as a "genius donkey", they treat him well too, but kick him out when he causes a ruckus. Meanwhile, Marie is also trying to find her place in life and actually begins a relationship with Gerard, who actually treats her in a similar way that he treated Balthazar. Throughout the film, the lives of both Balthazar and Marie run parallel as the two are examples of purity and innocence.
I'm not knocking anyone's taste, but to people really like this movie? I ask because I've read such gleaming things that have been said about it, but how much of that is just movie critics trying to earn their stripes by liking what they SHOULD like. I didn't HATE the film, by any means, but it certainly wasn't anything to get all bunched up about, that's for sure. It was a symbolic film and those are really hit & miss with me. On one hand, symbolism in filmmaking can be superb and something to really dissect and debate about, while on the other hand it can become a bit too self gratifying by the director and ultimately a bit too hoity-toity. Did you ever see that Seinfeld where Jerry is given the task of recording bootleg movies by one of Kramer's criminal friends? He gets really into it, not unlike a director in a director's chair and when he has to contract Kramer to go out and shoot one for him, he scolds him for doing it wrong: "....the bread symbolizes his soul, he's trying to buy back a piece of his soul...". That line kept coming to me as I was watching this film. The donkey stood for purity, Marie stood for innocence and everyone who had possession of Balthazar stood for humanity and how they'd treat purity and innocence when it was presented to them. Ugh...get over yourself Mr. Bresson!
There was really no plot to speak of, at least not one that I wanted anything to do with and when it came time for FIN, I was so ready. Again, we have the same Bresson problem presenting itself again, as we're severely lacking in the dialogue department. I'm such a fan of good dialogue, that it's an unforgivable sin with me and a hard one to overlook. Don't get me wrong, the film lingered somewhere around the average marker with the little semblance of a plot that there was and the definite emotional qualities. There's one scene where the we go from Balthazar as a baby, with Marie and being very cared for and very happy immediately to a scene where he has a bar in his mouth and being forced to pull a heavy load, being whipped by his new owner. It's a heart wrenching scene. Of course, it's only donkey, so one has to wonder if we as humans are just misinterpreting everything. I mean, aren't donkeys meant to be worked, meant to be farm hands? Perhaps all of his ruckus and snorting are just him being a donkey and we as compassionate humans interpret it as having to feel sorry for him. I mean, shouldn't Marie have been the ultimate symbol of purity since she's actually a human and we know that humans have emotions? And yet, she's more of an after thought when compared to the screen time that Balthazar gets. Or maybe I'm just a cold hearted monster and Balthazar would've rather been being brushed by Marie and playing hide & seek in a big pile of straw, who knows.
RATING: 5/10 Call it right down the middle, although I'm probably being overly generous and I'm sure that will go lower with time.
1. A Man Escaped
4. Diary of a Country Priest
5. Au Hasard Balthazar
Nothing dropped below average (except Diary of a Country Priest, which I'd raise a notch since my initial 4.5/10), yet I'm still glad to be done with Robert Bresson. His films were tedious, yet meaningful and while I was able to acknowledge most of them as at least good, they were still difficult viewings. All in all, I don't think I'll particularly seek out anymore of Bresson's catalog, nor would protest if someone were to recommend another.
MOVIES WATCHED: 840
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 161
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