Au Hasard Balthazar - A review
Written & Directed by: Robert Bresson
Stars: Anne Wiazemsky, Walter Green and François Lafarge
This perhaps is one of those movies that leave you aching in the heart for the parallels that humans are, and the way they treat 'their' humans and animals. The story though simple brings the complexity of 'human to human' vs 'human to animal' relationship and treatment through a donkey named Balthazar and a girl named Marie.
The story weaves you into itself by showing you the start of both the donkey and the girl's life as happy and playful, an ideal. However, the the girls life changes with situation, the donkey as well is passed to another master.
As the Balthazar moves from one master to another and serves him faithfully by being extremely strong and hardworking, so does Marie. Balthazar is shown being treated and often mistreated by several owners with very little or no compassion. Marie as well is humiliated several times by her lover. She however goes back to him as faithful as her animal friend and is always shown her better side to him.
The scenes that retch your heart are several. From the barbarous treatment being to to the donkey, such as the donkeys tail being lit, the often heavy and huge weight he is made to carry, the hunter treatment, to the extreme indifference some humans have towards faithful helper without whom it could be very difficult for them to survive. In the same way, Marie is shown to have suffered brutally by the ego of her suffering farther who turns down the offer of her childhood sweetheart to marry her, to when she tries to fight for herself she slaps her lover only to receive slaps back from him with more vengeance and power than she can withstand. Dejected both the Balthazar and Marie are seemed to confine themselves to a future that is unknown to them.
Another thing that catches your attention is that Balthazar and Marie both share the same masters several times through the movie. The masters are shown to have the same feelings for both a Donkey and a Woman - ruthless, vicious and brutal. The movie thus takes you through several comparisons and the end shows Marie being humiliated by her lover by being stripped down by his friends and locked in a house and left. And Balthazar is shown being stolen from Marie's house by her lover to smuggle goods. Balthazar is then abandoned at the blink of an eye when the customs almost catch the crook, only to be shot by a bullet that was meant for the criminal and left to die a slow painful death.
The movie makes you realize once again how in several ways man hasnt left his barbarian side to the ancients. However, on the other hands, carried within him. Man is shown to easily disregard the delicate balance he shares as the oppressor towards nature his partner the animal and the woman both the oppressed.
In the end, personally I am happy that there are movies such as this, and there are movies such as Shrek which portray the donkey in a better light.
The movie is most definitely worthy of being a part of the Criterion Collection.