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...


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!

Are we meant to assume that Marie is raped in this scene? I mean, that would be the ultimate stripping of her purity, yet it's never made clear, probably because it was at a time when you just couldn't outright say whether she had been or not. Great visual by the way - stripped, cowering: a totally broken spirit. 

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
2. Pickpocket
3. L'Argent
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.


August 21, 2014  5:12pm


  1. Sorry that you didn't like this film more. I can tell you that I really loved this film. It actually had a great impact on me. I liked it so much that I now own a copy. I do feel that perhaps watching all of the films by the same director together can be very tough. A lot of directors have quite a few films in the same style and if you don't love the style, then it can be tough. That being said, Bresson is very hit and miss for a lot of people. I liked A Man Escaped and loved Balthazar, but have yet to watch the others. Glad you made it through all five films.

    1. Thanks Larry, I appreciate the kind words. You know, maybe you're right, perhaps I should stop doing these director weeks. I've just always found it nice to be able to really gauge someone's work by watching all of their films in a row. Plus it pounds into my head whether I like them or not. If someone were to ask me about Bresson now, I could say "oh yeah" and remember the time I watched five of his films in a short period of time.

      But I get what you're saying too and I think he was a miss for me. But A Man Escaped was excellent!

  2. Good morning Andrew..
    Hey, don't worry.. I know what you mean by the burn out.. I recognise the feeling at about this stage.
    You have.. what..a bit less than 200 ish to go? That seems a long, long way to go, and with a run of rather .. well, ... dreary or at least uninspiring films.. why bother can very easily seem the sensible thought.
    Several times I felt quite happy with accepting a target of making it to 901.. or then 951. Then suddenly I started to find ones I thought were impossible... and hey.. wow.. I'm down to 5 or 6. And then as you know.. just the one, which sat of the shelf looking at me, daring me, to watch.

    And you deserve congratulations on the promotion.. and that obviously takes all priority of your time...
    The good news for you is that (I believe) you have checked and have access to them all.. at this stage I really thought I would not even be able to make it to 900.. and I remember thinking that, despite me being about 150 ahead (at that time), there was a strong probability you would get there first.

    Anyway, don't let our feelings or expectations bother you. Take your time, give up for a while.. or, maybe better, just reat and give us some 'off the list ' stuff for a while.

    And a run of Bresson would put anyone off. Sorry, in my opinion..

    I think I said before, Bresson seems to be for me what Bergman is to Amanda.. it SHOULD be good, but something just stops us dead in our tracks.

    And off all them, this was for me, by far the worse.
    This is one that I took to be him laying the religious imagery on with.. well.. not even with a trowel.. or even with a shovel.. more like with a bulldozer.
    Go on Robert.. just have "I am Christ, and I'm here to suffer" painted on the poor donkeys side, just in case someone missed the point...
    This was only saved from being more tedious (to me) than 'country priest' by being mercifully shorter.
    I fully accept that probably my.. lack of faith.....taints my reading of these films and I could be accused of reacting badly against the religiosity of them.

    I don't think we have found an answer to our differing opinion of Mr. Bresson's own faith.I still feel I have been beaten round the head with a Bible after watching one of his films..
    Oh well..
    (Amanda, if you are reading.. have you reached these yet??)

    1. Wow, Ray, thanks for that meaningful and obviously well thought out reply. I really appreciate your words and you encouraging me and telling me to take my time. Means a lot...

      Yeah, I still don't know about Bresson's religious beliefs, but I'd say I was wrong and you were right. There's really no clues to say that he was atheist and I didn't really get that out of any of his films.

      Thanks again Ray. Great to see you back, I was getting worried there.


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