Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Robert Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar

Video: artforum, youtube

'Everything I love and admire about Bresson is encapsulated by just one minute of one scene in this masterpiece [Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)]: The donkey Balthazar, pulling a hay cart through a circus menagerie, comes face-to-face with four animals in succession—a tiger, a polar bear, a chimpanzee, and an elephant. As Balthazar passes before each, the film cuts back and forth between his gaze and that of the other creature. Presumably, only a few feet separate them, but that distance is insurmountable. It’s a standard construction in film to use this technique when two human characters meet, revealing in the eyes of each something of their feelings and motivations. In Bresson’s film, however, these looks are exchanged by animals. He gives us their point of view, but no entry into their thoughts or feelings. ... The sequence is entirely inscrutable and can only leave us spellbound.' [Maragaret Honda, Artforum 03.2010]

'Placing a nonhuman protagonist at the center of Au hasard Balthazar instead of focusing on any of the constellation of human characters that enter the donkey’s orbit necessitated radical reconsideration of the place of editing in film language. He may be a donkey, but he’s our avatar through the film nonetheless. ... Bresson’s editing choices throughout push the limits of filmmaking as a universal language by legibly and plausibly rendering the inner life of an animal. (Robert Bresson most likely couldn’t communicate directly with donkeys during his lifetime, but Au hasard Balthazar might convince otherwise.) Of course, we’ll never know exactly what passed between Balthazar and the elephant, the other animals met upon his entry into the circus, ... but the film leaves a sense of something consciously felt between the donkey and all of those he encounters. ... Bresson performs yeoman’s work in making the unlikely possible: Balthazar remains one of cinema’s great tragic heroes.' [Jeff Reichert, ReverseShot]

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