Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) is the story of a donkey that was raised with affection, but when fully grown began a long hard life passing from owner to owner, either overworked or abused or both. As an "aniimal tale" it is a sorrowful occasionally moving tale.
But for many this is a Catholic fable of the sufferings of Christ & his final persecution, though in the film itself there seems to me to be only intimations of Balthazar being the equivalent of any random saint, & barely even that since his sufferings reflect human suffering. Balthazar's hardships in no way relieve that of humanity.
As Bresson was indeed a religious man a Christian layer of meaning is obvious & intentional, although ET the Extraterrestrial has far closer parallels to the Jesus myth. If Balthazar's life is the life of Christ sans resurrection, then so is every other film or written work or historical event regarding anyone or anything that suffers during life then is killed.
But accepting the premise that Jesus is a donkey, then surely he would have died for the sins of people rather than randomly, & that just doesn't happen.
A cast that Bresson himself called "models" rather than actors move through this pictorially lovely film ruining their lives by means of pride (a man falsely accused refusing to prove he's innocent of wrong doing); by means of greed (the mistrustful accuser); by lust (a girl who turns away from her childhood sweetheart preferring to be prostituted by a sexy violent youth), theft & cruelty (the violent youth); murder & drunkenness (the homeless wanderer), all of whose lives Balthazar witnesses with as much interest as any donkey might have, which is none.
Why so many have so happily viewed Balthazar as Jesus puzzles me a bit because if he were Jesus, the message of Bresson's would be that Christ suffered & died for no very good reason & stayed dead. No resurrection, & not for human sins. It seems more a film of hopelessness than faith, & ought to annoy Christians more than delight them!
Yet for many film authorities -- from professors to critics to fellow directors mainly of Catholic persuasion -- Bresson's donkey movie is a true masterpiece that reveals the whole spiritual life of the planet in the profoundest manner.
To me it's a pleasant enough film with some genuinely pretty black & white cinematography, but not one of the best films out of France. The inclusion of vague biblical parallels provides no more an extra dose of profundity than it does for E.T. or Star Wars.
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