A few nights back I watched Robert Bresson's Au hasard Balthazar. I've been trying to get my thoughts together to write down what I want to say about it but it isn't easy. It's difficult especially because of the effect this film had on me and that I would easily classify it as one of the greatest films I have ever seen. The synopsis I had read beforehand intrigued me. It mentioned how this was Bresson's religious fable of a girl and her pet donkey. While they eventually become seperated the girl suffers at the hands of her lover and the donkey at the hands of various owners. But, their suffering becomes a vehicle for spiritual transcendence and redemption. That gave me an overarching idea, but could not have entirely prepared me for this.
From the very first moments of the film I was caught out and entirely sucked in. During opening credits you have Schubert's beautiful Piano Sonata 20 played while at the same time hearing the cries of a donkey. At that point it doesn't matter if these are playful cries or cries for help. The initial juxtaposition of that sound against Schubert's sonata is enough to give the viewer and listener a jolt and tell them they are about to see something very special, and very different.
Jean-Luc Godard has been known to overstate his point in film criticism, and arguably in film as well but when asked about Au hasard Balthazar he stated it is "the world in an hour and a half." There are many ways of course that can be taken and while it may again be Godard overexaggerating it isn't far from the truth. In this film you see very plainly mans capacity for evil, you see man fall destructively into the depths of pride, you see brokeness. But you see mercy, you see love, and you see the capability for so much more. And you are not beat over the head with these themes, they are told extremely delicately and carefully. The restraint with which the story was told and with how Bresson used the camera reminded me more of Ozu's Late Spring than any other film. Though I guess I should say that feelings brought forth by this film erssonated much deeper in me that that.
One of the extras on the Criterion Collection release of the DVD is a conversation with film scholar David Richie. It seems at times while discussing the film he is close to tears himself. He makes mention of the reaction that Bresson's films bring forth in him and that this is what he appreciates most about them. He claims to find out more about himself by examining the reactions within himself to Bresson's films. He goes on to state that he likes the films moreso because they bring out a reaction in him of care and love. And I paraphrase here a bit, so I apolgize, but I understand completely what he is saying.
For myself the film resonated so deeply on a number of levels and when I ask myself why that is I come back to my Christian faith and also my veganism. Let me state first off, I do not believe this film to be an outward statement for animal welfare, I do not believe that was Bresson's intention. However, throughout the film I was extremely uncomfortable throughout in my fear for the donkey. This fear was of course compounded by Marie's troubles with her family, her lover, and her obvious care and love for Balthazar (the donkey) but her unwillingness or inablity (I am still unsure what it is in certain scenes in the film) to save this donkey from some of it's hardships. This uncomfort in me then stems from my faith as I mentioned earlier. My choice to go vegan is founded in my Christian faith and my belief that all creation is God's creation and loved by God. I believe that when we as human beings were given dominion over creation it was not a dominion in the sense that has been peverted today to mean domination. When in the Chritian faith one looks at Christ's dominion over the church it is not domination, but a continues Love. The Church is God's bride. And thus if we are given dominion over all teh beasts of the earth as human beings, that is the model which we should follow.
Now, throughout all this uncomfort in the film which I mentioned there are also those moments of love, mercy, and care that soften the blow. And the final scene, which I wil, not give away here in case someone wants to watch, may have been the most beautiful and affecting scene I have witnessed in all of film.
Films of course are always open to interpretation. And I am sure there are many who would see this film and write it off. And there will be many that love it, but for far different reasons than I do. Whatever the case, I do believe that those who find anything of value in this film will cherish it very deeply, and probably like me be treasuring it for a long time afterwards.