For Reel

Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)
February 15, 2012, 12:43 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Robert Bresson

Au Hasard Balthazar, Robert Bresson’s masterpiece of the sixties, tracks the life of a donkey who is born, passed from one vile master to the other, and dies. Though it is in many ways a twin of Mouchette, Bresson’s followup film, it eclipses its successor through the specificity with which it deals with violence. Many of those who exploit Balthazar do so for selfish means, or, in the case of the suspected murderer, motivations that are linked to substance abuse more than personal depravity. The young Gerard, who is perhaps the film’s purest form of evil, is the only character whose intentions are somewhat abstract. His is a senseless violence, a suggestion of the masochism of the new generation. Gerard is certainly linked with modernity – riding his motorbike and listening to contemporary rock music – and, perhaps unexpectedly, Bresson equates these new-fashioned trends with an enhanced display of primal brutishness. In creating a conflict between the young and the old (and specifically in contrasting the type of cruelty that is committed by each group), Bresson suggests that the world has been transformed by man’s gradual fall from grace. Balthazar, the Christ-figure, is given all the more significance with the suggestion that he is absolving a world that has become newly corrupt. Furthermore, as bleak of a portrait as the picture provides, it also suggests the inherent goodness that surfaces within man. The love between Marie and Balthazar, for example, is an affection not afforded Mouchette, and it offers moments of compassionate reprieve amongst the onslaught of suffering. The delicate balance that Bresson achieves is perhaps his most complete vision of his preferred type of social realism – it’s a world that is undoubtedly brutal, but one that is still tangibly human. Godard’s famous quote about the picture, that it is, “the world in an hour and a half”, is not mere hyperbole.

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