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AU HASARD BALTHAZAR
1966 - Robert Bresson
France / Sweden
16
Opening Shot

As the sounds of bells echo throughout the shot we see a baby donkey is feeding from it's mother. A gentle hand enters the frame to pet the baby donkey and the camera pans up to a young woman "Let us have him", she says. "We've got to him him" responds a younger boy before the adult behind them says "impossible children". The shots fades with the three of them walking home with the donkey.

The Film

French master Robert Bresson is one of the most unique and important visionaries of filmmaking. A genius cinematic poet, Bresson's style is a rare creation of film language. While it's debatable which is his greatest achievement, as Bresson is responsible for many masterworks, to me Au Hasard Balthazar stands alongside Mouchette as his finest films. Mouchette is perhaps Bresson's most heartbreaking film, while Au Hasard Balthazar his most accomplished. Au Hasard Balthazar may also be his most complex work in examining themes of suffering, human sins, and redemption. This is a film of such power and beauty it leaves me speechless. Au Hasard Balthazar is artistic filmmaking at it's purest and most breathtaking. It's images and sounds are both haunting and stunning and the films ability to capture human condition and emotions is astonishing and disturbing. Through Bresson's unmatched symbolic and simplistic vision as well as his quintessential use of non-professional actors (Bresson preferred to chose his actors based solely on appearance, primarily within facial expressions), Au Hasard Balthazar becomes an unforgettable cinematic experience. It's a journey which ultimately explores a depiction of human cruelty and sinful or hurtful urges. The ending easily belongs to be placed among the most moving in the history of film. This is a film that even transcends cinema and cinematic language into a reflection of life. Perhaps it's best described by master French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard who said, "Everyone who sees this film will be absolutely astonished, because this film is really the world in an hour and a half." Au Hasard Balthazar is absolutely one of the most profound, most beautiful, and most important films ever made!

The Filmmaker

French filmmaker Robert Bresson made 13 feature films in a career that spanned 40 years. It may very well represent the most original and carefully constructed body of work in the history of cinema. He is a perfectionist but above all an artist who's vision is entirely his own: without influence, preoccupations, and conventions of cinematic language or boundaries. Bresson has established a cinematic language true to nature of the artist. His films are experiences unlike anything else in film. They are subtle, quiet, and pure, and they are films not tied down to the mechanics of filmmaking or to the motivations of politics and beliefs. Bresson's films are a stripped-down world where nothing is unnecessary. Bresson is a realist, but one on a different worldly (transcendent) level then realists like John Cassavetes, or the Italian filmmakers of neo-realism. Bresson's cinema defines the inner-reality of humanity through the outer motivations of the real world. He reveals what we conceal inside ourselves as opposed to what we show, and that is why his films connect on various individual levels. It is a sense of feeling that make Bresson's films so magical. Bresson was born in France and educated in Paris, His early desire was to be a painter. In 1934, Bresson tried filmmaking, with the short film Les Affaires publiques. During World War II Bresson spent two years as a German prisoner of war (an evident influence throughout his work, most notably in his deeply personal 1956 masterpiece A Man Escaped), before making his debut feature in 1943 Les Anges du peche. Bresson's next feature, Les Bois de Boulogne (1945) blended a co-written script by Jean Cocteau with the early developments of his unique vision. Les Bois de Boulogne marked the final film in which Bresson would use professional actors. His third feature, 1951's Diary of a Country Priest, solidified his position as one of the world's most original filmmakers. Arguably his most quintessential film, Diary of a Country Priest developed the depressing tone and minimalist style which Bresson became known for throughout his career. Diary of a Country Priest simplistically defines the themes of Bresson's vision in the most transcending and reflective way. The film ends with an isolated shot of a cross within the frame to express humanity's inner and spiritual struggle. The final words spoken (in voice over) are "What does it matter? All is grace." This moment seems to define Bresson's thematic vision and no filmmaker in the history of cinema has more effectively captured the essence of grace on film. Bresson's films take on many depths, but at the center lies a primary theme of the inner struggle for spiritual meaning and choice within a corrupt world, which has lost it's innocence as well as it's spiritual meaning and choice. Bresson has a style that is simply indescribable, but one that is deeply felt on a very personal level. The emotional connection is powerful within yet there is something mysterious about his style and technique that make his films so indescribable and unique. It is what Bresson does not show that captures the imagination and mystery of his films (as they detail the effect before the cause- just as in real life). It is all this that give his films different meanings and interpretations with different individuals, but the truly special quality of them is that his films are everything at once. Bresson likes to show close-ups of feet, hands, doorknobs, etc as an expression of his style and theme, which display pieces of a world connected to the movement of his characters who are ultimately on the path of grace. Among the minimalist techniques of the Bresson style is the use of non-professional actors. Bresson captures the person not the actor. He finds what exists within the very essence of his "actors" by removing the limitations of acting or performance, ultimately resulting in a deeper sympathy and understanding for them. Bresson's gift of time and visual space through perfectly detailed compositions is counteracted with his mastery of sound (especially the innovative use of off-screen sounds). His balance of sight and sound all heighten the emotional depth and impact of the visual compositions in the most subtle way (of course the final heartbreaking moments of 1966's Au hasard Balthazar capture this mastery to great effect- utilizing the sound of the bells with the images of the sheep and of Balthazar). The tone of Bresson's films are depressing, cold films of suffering yet it is through suffering and sadness that his films ultimately reflect the beauty of living. The endings of his films are without joy and full of sadness (particularly his masterpieces Mouchette and Au hasard Balthazar), yet indescribably Bresson's vision leaves us with a feeling of the beauty of living. It certainly can be argued, but Bresson's films leave me with a sense of hope and of optimism, and of transcendence. It is a sad yet beautiful experience. Indeed, "All is grace!"

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