Au hasard Balthazar

Monday, 30 January 2006

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


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.


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.


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.