Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar (DVD)

Nasty, pointless and brutish, life as depicted in this film set in rural France is enough to deter anyone from ever considering downshifting to the countryside. Au Hasard Balthazar is a very bleak masterpiece of realitÈ cinema.

At the centre of the film is a donkey called Balthazar. His first owners are a middle class family whose daughter Marie is kind and loving towards Balthazar. These opening frames are pretty much the only moments of happiness in the whole film.
Balthazar soon changes hands and, with some short-lived exceptions, goes from one sadist to another. In parallel, Marie, like the donkey, falls prey to a sociopathic youth. In common with Balthazar, her reaction to violence and cruelty is resignation and even devotion towards her oppressors.
In general, the violent, the mean and the villainous prosper in this tale while the just are endlessly abused. Society even conspires to protect the guilty and punish the innocent.
The obvious cruelty towards the animal, Marie’s subservient attitude and her ill treatment at the hands of others make this film very hard to watch at times — but it is worth the effort, which is more than you can say of the lives of the protagonists.
The quality of the ‘print’ is exquisite as is the flawless photography of Ghislain Cloquet. You could learn almost everything you need to know about constructing shots from this film.
My only criticism of this release would be that they really should have been able to offer a choice of subtitled and non-subtitled versions. The other ‘extras’ are not really worth mentioning.

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