Decades Blogathon – Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)

1966

 

Happy Wednesday everyone. We move forward with day three in the Decades Blogathon, where me and Mark have been running posts from various bloggers interested in talking about films from decades past. Once again, there’ll be a new review posted each day, one here and one at the incomparable Three Rows Back. Today we’ve got a good one. This 1966 French piece comes courtesy of Keith, who runs the show over at his fantastic blog, Keith and the Movies


Anne Wiazemsky as Marie, with her donkey Balthazar,

The brilliant auteur Robert Bresson has been called the father of French cinema. Many of the greats from France’s New Wave movement considered Bresson their chief influence. Other filmmakers from around the world often pointed to Bresson’s work as effecting the shape and form of cinema for generations. He was known for his unconventional style and techniques which found their roots in his own unique philosophies behind the art of cinema.

Bresson had an intriguing filmography and one of his best pictures is his 1966 drama Au Hasard Balthazar. His films often focused on lead characters weighed down by or struggling with their circumstances or their inner-self. The conflicts and turmoils they faced often left them physically or emotionally broken. Bresson’s films are not for those looking for a lighthearted affair. They are thought-provoking examinations of humanity that refuse to shy away from our crueler and harsher sides. Au Hasard Balthazar is a stirring example of this approach.

The film follows a donkey named Balthazar who encounters a wide assortment of deeply flawed people during his life. We first see him right after birth living on a small rural farm. Over the film’s quick 95 minutes Balthazar changes hands several times. Many of his owners and handlers abuse him often physically but sometimes out of sheer neglect. But Bresson doesn’t take a cheap way out. Balthazar isn’t a miracle animal. He doesn’t speak or come up with clever ways to repay his abusers. No, he’s just a donkey. Simple, innocent, and true to his nature. He knows what donkeys know, feels what donkeys feel, and acts as donkeys act.

ABH 1

Why is that so important? Because it puts the spotlight on humanity. Balthazar is doing what he should be doing. It’s the people he endures along the way who show their very flawed and sometimes wicked sides. It’s an indictment on the reality of how things are. When speaking on the movie the great filmmaker and one-time critic Jean-Luc Godard called it “the world in an hour and a half”. It’s a sad picture that is sometimes hard to look at. And despite his limitations Balthazar is still intensely sympathetic and able to touch our emotions.

But Bresson doesn’t just follow Balthazar around everywhere. He also tells us the stories of several characters who play roles in the donkey’s life. The main one is Marie (Anne Wiazemsky). She lives on the farm where Balthazar is born and shows love towards him. But in another instance of straying from the conventional, Marie also sits idly by while a group of young thugs led by the slimy Gerard (François Lafarge) beats Balthazar. Marie becomes an emotionless hollow soul, in some ways like Balthazar – a victim of her circumstances. But she loses herself in a much darker place.

ABH 2

Gerard ends up with Balthazar on a couple of occasions and his cruelty towards the animal is unsettling. Gerard is a thug, a thief, and is shown to possibly be a lot worse. There are parts of his story that didn’t make sense to me, but Gerard’s brand of sadistic evil is felt by man and beast. Balthazar also spends time with a baker, a traveling circus, and a local drunk. We see all of these people through the clearest and most honest eyes possible – Balthazar’s.

Several of Bresson’s signature style choices are clearly seen in the film. Most obvious is his penchant for using non-professional actors in his roles. You will rarely find room for big movie stars in a Bresson movie. The director would hire unknowns and then train them specifically for their part. He didn’t want an ounce of theatrics from his actors and he was known to film a scene over and over until every hint of performance was removed. Even more, Bresson didn’t refer to his performers as actors. He called them “models” and they offered a raw and reserved take unlike what you see in the mainstream. When watching Au Hasard Balthazar this can be a challenge especially for those not accustomed to Bresson’s work. The characters can appear cold and indifferent, but that also causes us to look at them in a very unique way.

Au Hasard Balthazar can be a difficult film to take in. Its narrative can be a bit challenging but once you connect with Bresson’s greater message everything falls into place. It’s visceral and heartbreaking. At the same time it holds a mirror up to the world we live in. And while this film was made in 1966, the reflection it casts is just as piercing today as it was then. Godard’s description of the film is spot on. Bresson shows us the world. The question becomes how are we going to change it? Even more, can we change it?


Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

Decades Blogathon Update: We have our line-up!

Decades Blogathon banner 2016

Hey there one and all! Well it pleases me greatly to announce the official line-up of the 2016 Decades Blogathon, and so quickly. Thank you for responding so quickly and Mark and I both look forward to jumping in here and reading what you all have to say about your chosen movies. Once again this year we have an impressively eclectic selection of titles, and that’s just the way we like it.

So here’s how things are going to play out. Once again, there will be one review posted each day either on this site or on Three Rows Back, and whichever site it doesn’t go up on first, it will be re-blogged there on that day.

Posts are ordered on a first-come, first-serve basis. Which means our esteemed blogging machine Rob from Movie Rob kicks things off in style with his review of Top Gun (1986) — (way to pick a classic, Rob! 🙂 ) — and Mark, the brains behind this whole operation, will conclude things with his thoughts on Taxi Driver, which came out the decade prior.

I guess I could also mention when you can expect to see these posts start going up. We have decided that Monday, May 16 will be the first day of posting. Please have entries in latest by Friday the 13th, that way sloths like me will have time to sort through the reviews and get them formatted and set-up for presentation.

Because the spots filled so quickly this year, we’re anticipating a few late requests. Though we won’t be able to expand the pool to more than 20, last year we had one or two people duck out of the race at the last second, so if you find yourself on the outside looking in, you might just have a chance to get in if you let us know soon. If someone does drop out, those spots will be yours (again, on a first-come, first-serve basis). Thanks for your interest everyone and we look forward to getting this thing rolling on the 16th.


  1. Movie Rob — Top Gun (1986)
  2. Keith & the Movies — Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)
  3. It Rains, You Get Wet — The Outlaw Josey Whales (1976)
  4. Cindy Bruchman — Notorious (1946)
  5. Ramblings of a Cinephile — The Battle of Algiers (1966)
  6. The Last Picture Blog — Andrei Rublev (1966)
  7. Fast Film Reviews — The Ten Commandments (1956)
  8. Flick Chicks — The Fountain (2006)
  9. Drew’s Movie Reviews — Grandma’s Boy (2006)
  10. Sporadic Chronicles of a Beginner Blogger — Scream (1996)
  11. Defiant Success — Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
  12. The Cinematic Frontier — Labyrinth (1976)
  13. Movie Man Jackson — She’s Gotta Have It (1986)
  14. Nola Film Vibes  — Stand By Me (1986)
  15. Flixchatter — Casino Royale (2006)
  16. Carly Hearts Movies — Trainspotting (1996)
  17. Epileptic Moondancer — The Tenant (1976)
  18. Marked Movies — A Scanner Darkly (2006)
  19. Digital Shortbread — Inside Man (2006)
  20. Three Rows Back — Taxi Driver (1976)