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Doug C

Au hasard Balthazar (1966)

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I didn't say he didn't use a sledgehammer. I'm just remarking that the audience reacts with empathy to a donkey.

But how significant is eliciting empathy (or perhaps sympathy is a better word here) for a donkey? Abuse someone or something onscreen and, yes, the audience feels something. Clearly tenpenny felt something: There's more emotion in his Balthazar rant above than in the rest of his capsule-sized comments combined. That doesn't mean this film succeeded more than the others, certainly for tenpenny.

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I didn't say he didn't use a sledgehammer. I'm just remarking that the audience reacts with empathy to a donkey. I mean, have you ever interacted with a donkey? They don't deserve a lot of empathy in real life. And I don't just mean Democrats.

Ha ha. Yes, actually. My wife and I owned a donkey once. Not my favorite quadruped, and the braying gets old. We just have horses (full-sized and miniature) now. I take your point (g).

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I didn't say he didn't use a sledgehammer. I'm just remarking that the audience reacts with empathy to a donkey.

But how significant is eliciting empathy (or perhaps sympathy is a better word here) for a donkey? Abuse someone or something onscreen and, yes, the audience feels something. Clearly tenpenny felt something: There's more emotion in his Balthazar rant above than in the rest of his capsule-sized comments combined. That doesn't mean this film succeeded more than the others, certainly for tenpenny.

I have strong feelings about most of Bresson's films (follow, for example, the embedded link in my first post to my comments about A Man Escaped), but I purposely kept my remarks about the films other than Balthazar very brief. Since Persiflage had an ambivalent experience with his first viewing of a Bresson film, I wanted to encourage him to keep exploring Bresson's work and to point him to some of the other films, which he might like better. Balthazar is really not the best entry point into Bresson, even though for many of us (myself included) it's the first of his we see. The comments in this film's thread, which has a fairly long history, are overwhelmingly positive, often glowing (although there have been a few dissents, if you look through all the messages). I sensed a "What's wrong with me?" undercurrent to Persiflage's post, and I just wanted to reassure him that, at least in my opinion, his criticism of the unnatural passivity of the people portrayed in the film is quite defensible, though not widely shared.

Even if the example I gave of Marie's passivity can be explained, perhaps by the fact that Marie wanted a relationship with Gérard more than she cared about Balthazar, when you pile up all the evidence of all the weirdly passive reactions of people in this film, I submit that something is just not right. I don't mean right in a moralistic sense, I mean right in the more basic sense that this (the actions of the people in Balthazar) just doesn't square with the way people act in this world. God knows there is ugly brutality occurring everywhere, every second. People too often treat each other abominably - they fight, they kill, they torture each other. Heck, if people really treated each other with as much passive indifference as the mannequins treat each other in Au hasard Balthazar, the world would be a far less bloody place than it is. Even so, would any of us really want to live like that?

Another scene in the film that is simply not believable to me is the one where Gérard wrecks the bar where Arnold (the drunkard) is celebrating his unexpected inheritance with a crowd of dancing, mostly young, people. I've never seen anyone destroy a bar in a film with as much dispassion (g) as Gérard does. Usually these types of scenes leave actors completely drained and shaking messes - but here, François Lafarge (who played Gérard) probably didn't even break a sweat afterwards! And, while Gérard is doing his thing, the dancing crowd doesn't even notice - literally does not notice - the breaking and crashing of all the bottles, glasses, and mirrors going on around them. They just keep on dancing. Like I said, who acts this way? I mean, really?

A postscript: I don't mean to sound like I'm defending some kind of doctrine of greater realism in art. I realize that most artists (and particularly Bresson) are not trying to reproduce reality along the lines of those painters who produce "photographically realistic" paintings. I've also considered the possibility that Bresson is prophetically warning us that we're becoming something very different - and much more passive - as people. I get that, or at least I recognize that there are valid interpretations of this film that are much more accepting of what I would term the strange behavior of the models (I won't call them them actors, in deference to Bresson).

Lastly, I want to say that there are many images in Au hasard Balthazar that take my breath away. The shot of Balthazar in the rain, exhausted after a brutal day's work of turning the wine-press for the miser, as he drinks out of a small rain-catch bucket under a downspout (right after the previous shot where Balthazar pointedly refused taking water from a bucket in the miser's hands) - man, that is gut-wrenchingly beautiful. I will take the memory of that shot to my grave.

Edited by tenpenny

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Wow. What a great idea for a list!

I would have included Kate DiCamillo's The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

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I just saw this as I recovered from nasal/sinus surgery this past week. Fascinating and challenging.

It would be very interesting for me to see a discussion get going around this once again.

As a conversation-starter, I would love to hear your comments on a quote from Pauline Kael about this film: "Considered a masterpiece by some, but others may find it painstakingly tedious and offensively holy."

Offensively holy? What do you think made her react this way (or at least imagine that some would react this way)? Is this charge about the film true? Is it really possible for a film to be "offensively holy"? I'm guessing folks at A & F will have a very different idea of what that phrase means than Kael did.

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2nd call smile.png Anyone want to defend this A & F Top 5 film from the charge of being "offensively holy"?

Not particularly, but there's a lengthy discussion here about Pauline Kael's penchant for saying things that are either brilliant or ridiculous.

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I guess I'd just want to mention that this is one of those films that took me a few tries to really latch onto, but there came a point at which it fully registered with me after sticking with it, largely due to this thread. I'm certain my record of "getting it" is also found in this very thread.

It is undoubtedly not an easy film, but it is one worth coming back to and trying again. And when it finally hits, it hits hard.

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This was my first experience with Bresson, as part of my much needed, self administered film education. Parts moved me, and others left me cold, but it was, even if not always enjoyable, an enriching experience. I don’t think I have the words at the moment to properly explain what it was that I felt during or after viewing it, but suffice to say I’m anticipating the moment that I revisit it.

 

That being said, there are so many seeds of ideas taking root in my head after seeing it that I cannot write nothing at all. One thought in particular was a connection to St. Francis. Francis called his own body “Brother Ass”, and I thought it striking to see the film as giving a glimpse into the ascetic life and treatment of the bodies of saints (either canonized, or viewing all members of the Church as saints). I don’t think it works as a straightforward symbol, and I may be forcing the correlation, but it adds a new dimension to how I see Balthazar (I never really bought into him as Christ allegory, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel that he was more than an ordinary donkey). And I think this is something that I fully appreciated/loved about the film: it’s incredibly spiritual about the corporeal world. It doesn’t sever them; it’s not spirit and body, it’s spirit-body. Bresson manages to be abstract/transcendent without relinquishing his focus on life itself.

 

Then there’s this bit from C.S. Lewis on Francis's view in The Four Loves, pg. 143

"Ass is exquisitely right because no one in his senses can either revere or hate a donkey. It is a useful, sturdy, lazy, obstinate, patient, loveable and infuriating beast; deserving now the stick and now a carrot; both pathetically and absurdly beautiful. So the body."

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I recently wrote on this film in my column on my school newspaper (actually, the last issue of the school year). As I had less than 300 words of space (and was feeling a bit bitter after hearing a classmate praise God's Not Dead despite the issues raised on its thread here, which I did not take credit for), I'm not going to share the link to what I was able to write. I'm no SDG, but I am a bit proud of my last paragraph.

 

But it's a film I connect strongly with, alongside the other Bresson I own, L'Argent.

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When you first posted that "hands" post a few years ago, Tucker, it became my all-time favorite film-related blog post. I've even used it in the film seminar I taught at the Glen Workshop. Such a wonderful nudge for readers toward new ways to look at a movie.

 

Why am I sure that it had come up on this board before?

Edited by Overstreet

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When you first posted that "hands" post a few years ago, Tucker, it became my all-time favorite film-related blog post. I've even used it in the film seminar I taught at the Glen Workshop. Such a wonderful nudge for readers toward new ways to look at a movie.

 

Why am I sure that it had come up on this board before?

 

Perhaps it's been here before, but I don't remember. And I've actually moved it a couple of times as I shut down previous versions of blogs, etc. When I first posted it I got a shout out from Girish and his link brought a ton of traffic to the original post. But I have to say that words can't describe how happy it makes me to know you've used it in your seminar. I hope that people thought it interesting. My goal was merely to make an observation without much comment and let people just ponder. Anyway, thanks a bunch for letting me know.

Edited by Tucker

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This is a great thread.

 

I just saw this. It was my third Bresson, the first being Diary of a Country Priest a few years ago (I hardly remember it) and the second Lancelot du Lac (which I really liked). It was... challenging. Didn't seem to hit me particularly hard, but it's certainly made me spin my wheels (without much success) trying to figure it out. I don't think I've learned yet how to watch Bresson at all. His choices about where to point the camera often seem more frustrating than anything else, and, heaven help me, the "no acting" thing bothers me a lot. The result in this case was that the donkey's solo scenes were the only ones I could even start to believe in.

 

I'll try it again soon, though, and in the meantime see A Man Escaped.

Edited by Rushmore

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