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.