June 21, 2005


Au Hasard Balthazar (Ron Reed, 06/21/05, Christianity Today)

When the Museum of Modern Art announced "The Hidden God," a major faith and film series featuring titles as diverse as Magnolia, Andrei Roublev and Groundhog Day, the curators said the one film which clearly had to be included was Robert Bresson's masterpiece, Au Hasard Balthazar. The New York Times recently proclaimed, "Forget the Sith, Tom and Katie, the big movie news this summer is the release on DVD of one of the greatest films in history: Au Hasard Balthazar."

Andrew Sarris of the New York Observer writes: "No film I have ever seen has come so close to convulsing my entire being. Bresson's Christian spirituality finds its most earthy, layered and life-giving expression. Grace has never been dramatized more lucidly, or more movingly, than it is here."

Not bad for a donkey movie. This unadorned 95-minute story follows the young colt Balthazar's adoption as a family pet, through the hands of many masters, to the moment of his eventual death. It is a fragmentary portrait of a French village in the mid-sixties, tracing the interwoven lives of eight characters. It's a study of human weakness and cruelty, it's a portrait of Christ the suffering servant, it's the heartbreaking story of a young girl's descent from innocence to despair. But above all, it's a movie about a donkey.

Bresson was a French Catholic who made his greatest and most deeply Christian films in the two decades following World War Two. Afficionados would be hard-pressed to choose his masterpiece—A Man Escaped, Diary of a Country Priest, The Trial of Joan of Arc and Pickpocket all have their advocates—but Au Hasard Balthazar may be his most resonant and profoundly spiritual work. It is certainly his most affecting.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 21, 2005 8:01 PM

Gratuitous animal cruelty as metaphor for the human condition. Non, merci!

I can't watch Animal Precinct, I would illegalize dog racing and execute people who force animals to fight each other.

OTOH, watching some criminal fry till his eyeballs pop out would be something to savor.

Posted by: bart at June 21, 2005 8:20 PM

after The Red Balloon i avoid french movies lest i be saddened again.

Posted by: cjm at June 21, 2005 11:40 PM

A donkey movie? Oy.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at June 21, 2005 11:56 PM

I think your link for A Man Escaped (should link to your review) is broken or contains a typo...?

Posted by: jorge at June 22, 2005 12:20 AM

Ah . . . it is missing the "h" in "http"

Otherwise fine.

Posted by: jorge at June 22, 2005 12:23 AM

Groundhog? Did someone say Groundhog?

Posted by: Lou Gots at June 22, 2005 5:55 AM

Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos is a great, great book.

Posted by: pj at June 22, 2005 7:55 AM

I saw Balthazar a few weeks ago. It felt meaningful, but did not strike me with the force all these critics have been talking about. Sorry, a donkey just doesn't convey Christ that well. It comes off as just mildly depressing. I liked "A Man Escaped" better.

Posted by: Judd at June 22, 2005 8:39 PM