Au Hasard, Balthazar (1966)
“Ridicule is the one thing we must avoid at all costs.”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
While I certainly can’t refute the deeply reverent relationship many viewers have with this film, I must admit that I found myself surprisingly unmoved by it. Bresson’s distinctive cinematic style — strategically designed to emulate a marriage of music and painting, with emotionless, non-acting “models” rather than actors inhabiting roles — is ultimately not for all tastes. While I admire his intentions, his approach doesn’t work for me on a basic empathetic level. I’m so distracted watching his “models” move self-consciously across the screen that I’m overly aware of their role as dramatic placeholders, to the detriment of my ability to relate to the film on any personal level. This is all the more of a shame given that Bresson’s visuals are consistently stunning; frame after frame is lovingly composed, and gorgeously shot by his D.P. (Ghislain Cloquet).
Call me a Bressonian grinch, but I’m only recommending this one as must-see for its undeniable cinematic stamp of approval by most critics. You’ll have to judge its ultimate merit for yourself. Instead, I’ll continue to rally for Diary of a Country Priest (1951) as the film for which Bresson’s unique approach is best suited.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)
One thought on “Au Hasard, Balthazar (1966)”
First viewing. Not must-see. (This one is really only for the much more adventurous of film fanatics – even ffs who like to ‘branch out a little’ will most likely find this one challenging, without guarantee of a pay-off.)
Even though Bresson did not consider himself a traditional Catholic, to me this film does rather clearly read as Christian allegory. (Bresson is on record as saying the film was inspired by something the character Myshkin in Dostoevsky’s ‘The Idiot’ says about being cured of melancholy after hearing a donkey bray in a marketplace.)
It’s not an easy film to watch, but at least it’s a manageable length (95 min.). The storyline is not exactly clear – it’s almost as if the details of the plot are not important beyond the basics, which you can probably manage…but it’s still a bit frustrating. For a film concerned with spirituality, it’s almost totally bleak…as though God only exists through a glass darkly and cannot really be witnessed or felt (much) in life.
I wasn’t all that bothered by the actors being non-professional. I mostly find the film a bit too much on the lethargic side. But I did note that it was shot by Cloquet, who here seems rather hampered by Bresson’s style. (He would seem more free with ‘Le Trou’, ‘Love and Death’, ‘Tess’, etc.)
(I intend to see Bresson’s ‘A Man Escaped’ rather soon. Peary doesn’t list it as a title of note.)