Saturday, September 22, 2012
Au Hasard Balthazar
Au Hasard Balthazar is a 1966 French New Wave film by one of the movement’s best, Robert Bresson. It tells the tangled story of Balthazar, a donkey, and his owners, a shy farmer and farmer’s daughter. Well, sort of. I want to start out by saying I love Bresson. L’argent is one of my all time favorite movies and there’s no doubt the dude was talented and influential. But, frankly, I couldn’t stand this movie. If I had to sum up the crux of the problem, it would be that the series of events in the picture seemed to have neither cause nor effect. Everything happened seemingly at random, the characters seemed either completely disinterested or helpless and then there seemed to be no real outcome from the actions. In other words, it’s a random pile up of events that appear to have no real purpose.
Bresson has said that the movie is a series of lines that intersect to serve as metaphors for the seven cardinal sins and the Christian journey. Godard thought it was one of the greatest achievements in cinema history. The late great film critic Andrew Sarris said it was “one of the loftiest pinnacles of artistically realized emotional experience.” Well, in my mind, it was a polished turd. I’ll give you a prime example. Here is a scene from the movie that is indicative of the movie itself. Marie (farmer’s daughter and girl of her very early teens) drives up on a country road, parks and walks over to pet Balthazar. Says nothing. A boy, who she does not know, of similar age walks up looking sinister and then gets into Marie’s car’s passenger seat. Opens the door, puts her head in (doesn’t look at him, just stares forward) and yells for him to leave. He says nothing. She stares forward, glances at him, stares forward, glances at him. She then gets into the car and stares forward. He goes to touch her, she pushes him away, gets out crying and runs toward Balthazar. The boy walks over, she starts to run away, falls, cries, then watches as the boy goes and gets back into the car. She then gets a resigned look on her face and gets into the car as well. The scene cuts to the car driving away and the boy zipping up his pants, while walking away.
There is zero explanation and, remember, she did not know this boy. It’s as though anything can happen at any moment and there is no need whatsoever for any cause. I said, at a point in the film, to the people with me “I feel like anything can happen, like things are so random that someone could just open fire on the characters and I’d be like, yep, sure, why not?” As I was finishing this sentence, someone opened fire on the characters in the scene. They were walking across a field. We were never shown who was shooting or why. It happened and then, that was it, scene over, no other acknowledgement of it or explanation. Sure, why not? I actually was watching this with a film critic from DC and I marveled to him that most consider this movie a classic and he said, I’d only use one word to describe it…”bomb.” I agree. I love you Mr. Bresson, but this movie didn’t do it for me.