Besides being a great movie, Au Hasard Balthazar should be required viewing for everyone who ever wants to make films, because it shows just how much you can get away with if you have a reputation for being an art house director that draws crowds. Bresson was of course horribly popular at the time he made this, for aggressive auteurism (and catholicism), and this is remembered as one of his best movies (and I think it is better than Diary of a Country Priest, which is the first Bresson movie most people watch). Still, I don't think any American could ever get away with telling the backers for his film that he wants to make a slow paced movie about a donkey that is also a saint.

The movie is of course about more than a donkey, it follows the community of people that the donkey is associated with. Primarily an attractive young woman, and a man with a motorcycle who she has a thing for. The nasty interactions that the boy, girl, and various other members of the cast have for one another are countered with the donkey's animal desire for love and affection. The desire to be of service, to nuzzle up against someone, to be "with" someone. The woman and man clearly want the same thing, but there is something fundamentally standing in the way. Something keeping them from humanly connecting.

In the film the donkey's kind of animal idiocy borders between true idiocy and persistent victimhood, and a powerful christlike suffering that breaks through the barriers of indifference. The donkey is a conscious character that stands for what is authentically right, which no one else is able to face.

Human martyrs are a persistently dull subject for a film (and that includes you Jesus), what makes Balthazar such an interesting character is that he is not acting greater than human, he is acting fundamentally human, despite the fact he is an animal. The almost dialogue-less acting on the part of the actors accentuates their similarities in the basic animal needs of all creatures, human and non-human alike. One of which is the experience of "being with" someone.

While each Christian out there seems to interpret their theology different. I think what is so interesting about the best religious filmmakers (Bresson and Tarkovsky are the first to mind), is their accentuation of the physical aspect of the religious experience (see Solaris), not the mystery of the unseen, unknown, the life afterlife, but the mystery of the seen, the known, the life within life.

People are drawn to each other. There has been no psychologist that has been able to adequately explain why that is. Our love for the things of this earth is an issue for the theologists.

Buy Au Hasard Balthasar here

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