Thursday, December 26, 2013

Au Hasard Balthazar

Written and directed by Robert Bresson, Au Hasard Balthazar (Balthazar, at Random) is the story about the paralleling lives of a young girl and her donkey following their heartbreaking separation where they both suffer cruelty. The film explores the relationship between this shy girl and her donkey and the separation that would destroy them both. Starring Anne Wiazemsky and Francois Lafarge. Au Hasard Balthazar is a heart wrenching film from Robert Bresson.

The film is about the life of a donkey named Balthazar who would be in the hands of many owners where most of them would treat the donkey with great cruelty with the exception of a young girl named Marie (Anne Wiazemsky) who would also endure the same kind of abuse from the people in her small town. The film doesn’t have much of a plot only that it takes place in the span of many years from Balthazar’s early days with Marie whose father (Philippe Asselin) has been taking care of the farm for a rich family only to sue them for money. When that goes wrong, Balthazar is later handed to a series of owners where some treat the donkey cruelly that includes a young thug named Gerard (Francois Lafarge) who would harass Marie into an abusive relationship. All of it would play into the way humanity deals with animals and young women where it would be Balthazar who would maintain some kind of dignity through the ordeal he goes through.

The direction of Robert Bresson is simple and to the point in the way he explores the life of a donkey and the connection he has with this shy young woman who loved the donkey since she was a girl. Bresson’s approach to naturalism has him going for something that is astonishing in the way a donkey is being treated as he is treated with care at times but also in the worst ways that includes a scene where Gerard lights a paper on Balthazar’s tale to get him to move. Much of the compositions has Bresson use wide and medium shots to play into the world that Balthazar is in as he is walking in towns where it he has to deal with cars and motorbikes as he wanders on the road. There’s also moments where Balthazar is being treated like an animal where he wanders around to a circus where there’s these amazing close-ups of circus animals in cages looking at Balthazar.

The close-ups on Balthazar are some of the most gorgeous yet somber images captured on film where it’s clear that this is more than just some donkey but a character with a soul as the donkey that plays Balthazar deserves high commendation for its work. Even in his interaction with the actors in the film including the character of Marie whose story is also just as heartbreaking as Bresson brings a very low-key approach to the melodrama to showcase her own journey. Notably as she longs to return to her childhood friend Jacques (Walter Green) despite all of the abuse she’s been through with Gerard and others as she also has to deal with her father whose pride had been his undoing as he is also responsible for what Balthazar endures. Overall, Bresson crafts a very touching yet powerful drama about the cruelty of humanity towards a saintly donkey.

Cinematographer Ghislain Cloquet does excellent work with the film‘s black-and-white photography where it‘s very understated for much of its daytime scenes while go for a bits of style in the nighttime scenes. Editor Raymond Lamy does brilliant work with the editing as it‘s quite straightforward with some jump-cuts and some stylistic cutting to play into the film‘s drama. Production designer Philippe Dussart does terrific with the set pieces from the home that Marie and her family lives in to the bakery that Gerard works at. The sound work of Antoine Archimbaud and Jacques Carrere is amazing for the intimacy and naturalism that is presented for the film including the braying of Balthazar. The film’s music largely consists of piano pieces by Franz Schubert that is performed by Jean-Joel Barbier as it plays to much of the film’s melodrama while the rest of the music soundtrack includes jazz pieces by Jean Weiner and some pop songs that are played from Gerard‘s radio.

The film’s cast includes some incredible small performances from Jean Remignard as the notary who deals with Marie’s father’s case, Philippe Asselin as Marie’s stubborn father, Nathalie Joyaut as Marie’s kindly mother, Francois Sullerot and Marie-Claire Fremont in their respective roles as the baker and his wife where the latter is suspicious towards Gerard, and Walter Green as Marie’s childhood friend Jacques who tries to settle the matter between his family and Marie’s father. Pierre Klossowski is terrific as a merchant Marie meets late in the film as he would become one of Balthazar’s final owners. Jean-Claude Guilbert is excellent as the drunken farmer Arnold who would gain Balthazar as he treats the donkey with some contempt while also being caring at times as he’s this melancholic man lost in the modern world.

Francois Lafarge is superb as the cruel Gerard as this youthful thug who uses Balthazar for his own schemes while treating him and Marie with such disdain. Finally, there’s Anne Wiazemsky as Marie as a shy young woman who is heartbroken by her separation from Balthazar as she becomes lost in her despair where she is abused and mistreated while seeking to find some good in the world.

Au Hasard Balthazar is a tremendous yet harrowing film from Robert Bresson. Featuring a mesmerizing performance from a donkey as well as a somber tale about a donkey’s life where he endures cruelty. It’s a film that is definitely powerful while proving that animals do have a soul when it’s treated with love and care. In the end, Au Hasard Balthazar is a magnificent film from Robert Bresson.

Robert Bresson Films: (Les affairs publique) - (Les Anges du peche) - Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne - Diary of a Country Priest - A Man Escaped - Pickpocket - The Trial of Joan of Arc - Mouchette - (A Gentle Woman) - (Four Nights of a Dreamer) - (Lancelot du Lac) - (The Devil Probably) - L’Argent

© thevoid99 2013


Anonymous said...

I have this on my DVR and plan on digging in soon. Your review has me really, really excited! I can't wait to see this now!

thevoid99 said...

Oh, I hope you enjoy it as I hope you also check out more films by Robert Bresson as I hope to do more of his work next year.