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Au Hazard Balthazar

I’d never seen this rarely-screened 1966 film and it’s not yet available on DVD, so I eagerly cued up when the new 35mm print came to town as part of the touring Bresson retrospective (a surprising large crowd had gathered, eager for a shot of Bresson’s brand of bracing austerity).   The titular Balthazar is a donkey.   The film tells the donkey’s story as he suffers at the hands of humanity, finds moments of fleeting happiness, and in the end dies for humanity’s sins.   (I’ve heard that this film was a big influence on Gibson’s ‘Passion’, but I don’t think Gibson truly got the point.)   The film confirms the corruptness of humanity and that only a non-human can truly be a saint.   As a dog lover, I heartily concur!   Still, Bresson’s vision isn’t judgmental; as one critic put it, this is “the cinema of empathy”.   Don’t miss it if the Bresson retrospective comes to your town.

- Mar 25, 2004

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