Wednesday, December 24, 2003

/Au hasard, Balthazar/ (Bresson, 1966): A

This movie stars a donkey. In the beginning, the donkey would frolic with the nymphet Marie, and all is joyful. Then shit starts happening to Marie's dad. The donkey gets sold and is treated badly. Marie is also treated badly, especially by a prick named Gerard. Gerard loves to torture the donkey. Also, he steals. Also, he is a punk who wears uncomfortably tight jeans. The donkey gets taken in by a drunk then a miserable miser. Through it all, the donkey remains implacable. His eyes are clear but sad. When Marie caresses him near the end of this donkey picture you feel just like when Kate and Leo reunited in the afterlife. Very bittersweet. Then the donkey eats it. The end.

This donkey picture is considered one of the greatest pictures ever made. I agree with this. Manohla Dargis and J. Hoberman also agree (I think both esteemed critics have this movie on their all-time top ten). First of all, it is true I have never seen a better donkey picture. I especially like the close-up shots of the donkey's eyes, and the shots of Marie's hands. And also the last shot. The movie feels so pure, like nothing has been wasted. The director, the "transcendental" master Robert Bresson, does not lard his movies with a hundred cutaways of ticking clocks or dress up everybody in red. His filmmaking is simple but concise. That is why it is awesome that this frog Bresson has become the fashionable Artiste of the Serious Cinema rather than the dour overrated Swede Bergman and the Russian Tarkovsky, though the Ruskie is making a comeback. (Solaris is awesome, by the way.) If anyone wants to check out more of this frog Bresson, I highly recommend A Man Escapes and Pickpocket, though I also like most of the others too. Still, this donkey movie is Bresson's masterpiece, and it should be seen in this beautiful print rather than a Nth generation PAL dub, which is how I first saw it.

Also, notice how this donkey film is not about the donkey per se but about the cruelty of man's utter indifference (and intentional cruelty) to other beings. Bresson's focus on the donkey speaks to a greater theme, the effect of callous human actions. In that way, this donkey movie is utterly unlike the awful robot movie about the robot kid programmed to love.