Au hasard Balthazar

Monday, 30 January 2006

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #297: Robert Bresson’s Au hasard Balthazar.

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One would ex­pect a painter-turned-film­mak­er to have an eye for com­po­si­tion, and Bresson def­i­nite­ly ex­ceeds that ex­pec­ta­tion. Throughout Au hasard Balthazar “shots as paint­ings” abound. This is the first film I’ve seen by Bresson, and be­fore I watched it, I read up a bit on his style. I was some­what leery of the ef­fi­ca­cy of the spare­ness that was most of­ten used to char­ac­ter­ize his work. Too of­ten you can run the risk of los­ing too much mean­ing by mak­ing the au­di­ence work for it. This, of course, is a bunch of hog swal­lop. Bresson, Bresson, Bresson, knows what the fuck he’s do­ing. The spare­ness em­pha­sizes and di­rects, he us­es it as a tool, not a gim­mick. It rules.

The sto­ry, as it is, con­cerns it­self with the life of a don­key named Balthazar and with the life of a girl named Marie. They in­ter­con­nect at times and mir­ror each oth­er at times and ul­ti­mate­ly [I think] speak of one main the­me by us­ing two op­pos­ing themes.

Au-hasard3_halfSize.jpgThe first the­me I want to talk about is the one based on the life of Marie. Why? Because she’s hot. Because her sto­ry is more in­ter­est­ing. She grows up in a rather re­stric­tive house­hold and seems to be both shy and lone­ly. Her on­ly friend is Balthazar un­til he is sold to the bak­er help pay the bills. A young punk named Gérard, who de­liv­ers bread, wants to pork Marie and ac­costs her on a qui­et road. She wants noth­ing to do with him but even­tu­al­ly sub­mits and then be­comes his steady shag. She then be­comes emo­tion­al­ly de­pen­dent on his abu­sive com­pa­ny and looks to him to give her pro­tec­tion. The first time she ob­vi­ous­ly comes to him in need [af­ter be­ing thrown out of her home] he drops her like a dime and gets up with some oth­er girl. She leaves, in the rain, and stops at the miser’s house in search of some­one else to pro­tect her. He ends up of­fer­ing her his mon­ey for sex [im­plied] and she ends up sleep­ing with him af­ter giv­ing it back. Her child­hood love, Jacques is will­ing to for­give the­se in­dis­cre­tions and mar­ry her, even af­ter she is gang-raped [again im­plied] by Gérard and his min­ions, but Marie lit­er­al­ly dis­ap­pears from the rest of the film.

Balthazar has a sim­i­lar path, be­ing shut­tled around as chat­tel from one bru­tal own­er to an­oth­er. The chris­to­log­i­cal sym­bol­ism is rife. Essentially the sto­ry is an al­le­go­ry of Christ’s life, but with ad­di­tion­al tan­gents that make it in­to much more than just al­le­go­ry. Balthazar is tor­tured, burned, beat­en, ex­ploit­ed and his na­tive in­tel­li­gence is sup­pressed by the dumb brute work that he is sub­ject­ed to. In the end, he dies with the sins of hu­man­i­ty on his back [black mar­ket goods], a gun­shot wound in his chest, in a shepherd’s field, sur­round­ed by sheep.

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Balthazar and Marie live sim­i­lar lives, with­out agen­cy, at times seek­ing it, but ul­ti­mate­ly un­able to make it stick. Yet in the end, Balthazar re­tains his ba­sic gen­tle­ness and in­no­cence and Marie be­comes both hope­less and ma­nip­u­la­tive. Like Sword of the Beast we see that hu­man­i­ty is of­ten eas­ier found in crit­ters than in Man.

Criterion Essay by James Quandt
Masters of Cinema Review
Foreign site with many stills [scroll down]
Strictly Film School Review

Kedamono no ken

A part of this viewing list: Criterion Collection Spine #311: Hideo Gosha's Sword of the Beast.

It just happens to be coincidence that I was reading the Hagakure when this movie came in on my hold list at the library.

Naoshige once said, "The Bushido signifies desperate death. Several tens of sane samurais could not kill a single samurai [who burns with this mad death]."

Sane men of calmly composed mind cannot accomplish a great enterprise. You have only to get wildly crazy to the point of death. The moment discretion and consideration mingle with your Bushido, you will surely hesitate and lag behind your enterprise.

To the Bushido, loyalty and filial duty will naturally follow from your madness. Because in this desperate death, both of these qualities dwell in your actions.

If ever there was a samurai who embodies the desperate death of Bushido, the character of Gennosuke in Sword of the Beast is that man. His tale takes place as the Tokugawa shogunate was dwindling, on the cusp of the Meiji Restoration [when the position of samurai was abolished] and soon after Commodore Perry's ships ended Japan's long self-imposed cultural isolation. Now that you've got a bit of historical context and a bit of the cultural philosophy that drives the actions of the characters in the film, it becomes much more than a hack-and-slash samurai film.

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The recurrent theme of human bestiality [not that kind, sicko but I bet that ups my search referrals] is nearly constant, while Gennosuke might behave as a beast at one moment, a breath later he is an honorable samurai. At other points throughout the film other characters behave in similar manners. Jurota, the gold seeker, refuses to save his wife when she falls into the hands of bandit-prospectors; opting instead to remain loyal to his clan. The same prospectors later rape another woman on the mountain and when Jurota's clan finally shows up, they are bent on killing everyone on the mountain, including Jurota and his wife.

The characters believe that gold will elevate them, but instead it is what causes their bestial behavior. Gennosuke is actually convinced that he is turning into a wolf. Essentially what we get is a distorted form of Bushido that deemphasizes the clan-loyalty in favor of a more Western individual loyalty. After Gennosuke's betrayal by his own clan, he rapidly adapts this warrior code throughout his ronin and by the end of the film has managed a makeshift balance between his new path and his old Bushido. His failed ambition is mirrored in Jurota's efforts, and Jurota's presence on the mountain acts as the catalyst to precipitate Gennosuke's internal redemption.

The use of flashback does strange things to the continuity, because the first few aren't signaled very well. Eventually they turn a bit more standard trick and I wonder if this was another deliberate correlation between beast and man, since the ambiguous sequences come deep in the beast phase of Gennosuke's story. His adapted Bushido would appear very modern to post-WWII Japanese, and Gennosuke's facility at incorporating it into his life mirrors Japan's similar facility which allowed them to regroup as an economic power so quickly after their surrender.

I can't believe I've not talked about the fencing yet! It is most excellent, very raw, at times graceful and at times clumsy, necessities depending on terrain and number of opponents. Gennosuke is pretty much a master of the one-stroke kill, and while the deaths are often hammy, I wanted to see more sweet slicing action.

Criterion Essay by Chris D.
Criterion Essay by Patrick Macias
French review [in French, duh] with screen captures.

Things Were Done This Weekend

The house across the street from my apart­ment is for sale for $50k. The house pay­ment would be cheap­er than my rent, but up­on look­ing at the in­side I es­ti­mat­ed an­oth­er $50k would need to be in­vest­ed just to make it liv­able. I don’t have the time, mon­ey or in­cli­na­tion to do that kind of work on a house. The place does have sig­nif­cant pos­si­bil­i­ty, but you know it is bad when the most liv­able room in the place is the at­tic.

I fixed Pesto Chicken and Pancetta and Romano cakes and Banana Pies and had my bud­dy Steve help me eat it. Actually he pre­pared the di­jon glaze for the chick­en and was chief baster. It was a rather meh meal in my es­ti­ma­tion, but “I’ll Eat Anything” Goldberg didn’t mind. The Banana Pies, how­ev­er were com­plete­ly ined­i­ble. I swear, for a per­son that likes to bake, I have the hard­est time mak­ing good dough. Always too much flour. Maybe it is be­cause I don’t have a sifter.

I spent my run think­ing about words that I liked, but can on­ly re­mem­ber “loi­ter” at this point.

I ate a Sokolowski’s with Wasco and man­aged to com­plete my first Literary Café Weekend Trifecta. I met an­oth­er lo­cal blog­ger and fixed a lo­cal resident’s wire­less con­nec­tion, but locked her out of her own work com­put­er when try­ing to change its work­group to al­low her to have a home net­work. Nevertheless, she still agreed to tan­go with me this evening.

I was sup­posed to work on a web­site for a lo­cal busi­ness owner/​resident yes­ter­day, but every 34sp host­ed site was down for I don’t know how long. So I’m a day be­hind and don’t par­tic­u­lar­ly like that.

Training Day 27

Saturday, 28 January 2006

I’ve’nt run 9 miles in some­thing like 10 years when the cross coun­try team used to haul ass from the high­est point in the coun­ty [the high school] to al­most the low­est [in a van down by the river]. I did it to­day though. And my legs frig­gin’ hurt. I think I’m pret­ty well car­dio-vas­cu­lared up and just have to wait un­til my legs get their as­s­es in gear. Yowch for now though.

Smart/​Jack/​Dumb Ass

Friday, 27 January 2006

I’ve de­cid­ed I tend to be ex­ces­sive­ly jerk­store when I’m hang­ing out with friends and mak­ing small talk. I think it is a com­bi­na­tion of be­ing slight­ly bored with small talk, and on­ly-child-try­ing-to-be-the-cen­ter-of-at­ten­tion-ism. As soon as some­thing in­ter­est­ing catch­es my at­ten­tion, how­ev­er, I be­come my ba­sic ever-cu­ri­ous self. Now that I re­al­ize why I’m an ass so of­ten, I can con­scious­ly work to be less boor­ish. This is sci­ence.

Training Day 25

Thursday, 26 January 2006

So I was a jack­ass and didn’t run to­day. I had a three mile run sched­uled but the mo­ti­va­tion just wasn’t there, my calves are still pret­ty knot­ty and it was bitchass cold out. I’ve got more ex­cus­es than Wrigley has chew­ing gum, but I’m hop­ing that this tac­ti­cal day off will let me do my nine mil­er with­out a hitch on Saturday. I’d hate to pull a mus­cle 4 miles from home.