Au Hasard Balthazar Reviews
I've seen a lot of films about animals getting abused from that animals perspective. Some films that share this plotline can easily feel cookie-cutter after you've been exposed to it several times. I had a few concerns about that when I was about to go into this movie. Fortunately, however, "Au Hasard Balthazar" was not one of those examples. It turned out to be an exception. It was able to stand out amongst the rest of them. I don't think that it's flawless, but it's still a great movie.
This film chronicles the life of an abused donkey named Balthazar as it passes from cruel owner to cruel owner. Meanwhile, the life of a young girl who originally owned it named Marie is chronicled as she gets badly treated by her abusive boyfriend. Both of their lives seem parallel to each other.
On my re-watches, I noticed how the movie has a lot of religious symbolism. For instance, the fact that Balthazar goes through seven different owners could mean numerous things. It could represent the seven deadly sins or the seven sacraments. Also, Marie's name sounds similar to "Mary", the mother of Jesus. That's another example of symbolism. There's also the donkey's baptism that the kids try to do. It makes Balthazar seem divine. Also, the wreath of flowers put on Balthazar's head reminded me slightly of the Christ's crown of thorns. Also, the wine that Arnold drinks, and the bread that Gerard delivers could represent transubstantiation. There might be a few more examples from the movie that I missed. Some of the symbolism is a bit obvious, but I didn't mind that too much. I have a few explanations which explain Bresson's purpose for including them. The first one is that he could be trying to juxtapose religion with sin or simply good with evil. My second interpretation is that he might also be trying to establish Balthazar as a divine figure. My last interpretation is that he might be trying to inform the viewers that there is a special heaven for animals, as well as people.
One of the things which set this film apart from many other films with similar plots is that it chronicles the hardships of Marie as well as Balthazar. When Balthazar was young, Marie was one of his original owners. Both of these characters lived relatively parallel lives. Balthazar got abused by each of his cruel owners, and Marie gets abused by her boyfriend Jacques who tried to force himself onto her in numerous scenes. However, the difference between the two of them is that Marie could defend herself to an extent, unlike Balthazar. Marie sometimes tried to avoid being around Jacques. Balthazar, on the other hand, was powerless, and he had very minimal reactions. Balthazar simply walked and waited for someone to give him order. The reason why he behaved this way was likely that he knew that his life consisted of him either feeling or not feeling pain. The most he did in the film was bray every now and then. It was almost like he couldn't do anything else to defend himself as he was powerless to his owners.
The fate of Marie was not stated at the end of the film. After she gets stripped and beaten, we don't see her again. It's likely that she's going into a life of servitude. However, we do find out Balthazar's fate by the ending. After he's accidentally shot while Jacques uses him to steal certain items, he walks up to a sheep herd and spends his last minutes with them before he dies. There are a few interpretations I have for what Bresson intended by this scene. It could mean that Balthazar is trying to die in peace away from the abusive owners he encountered in his life. It could also mean that Balthazar is thinking of the life he could've had if he had kinder owners. Regardless of what Bresson intended by this scene, I still found it to be memorable. I enjoy movies with tragic endings, because they often linger with me long after viewing them (sometimes, I even like them more than happy endings). I appreciate directors who aren't afraid to step out of the comfort zones of audience members.
The only major issue I had with this film was with the character of Jacques. I found him to be very oversimplified. In the first scene, he seemed like a nice kid. In the next scene when he's all grown up, however, he turns violent as he abuses Balthazar and forces himself on Marie. The movie doesn't explain how he became that way. It just skips his character arc and tells us "Jacques is a bad character, so you should dislike him", thus oversimplifying him. Also, most of the owners of Balthazar were either very underutilized or unmemorable. The only one who I found to be memorable was Arnold, but that was only because he was in the movie more.
In conclusion, this was a pretty good movie. Robert Bresson did a great job with this film as he turned a tired plot into a memorable film that does a lot differently than other films. It could have been better, but it was still pretty good. This is the 2nd Bresson film I've watched (the first one being "A Man Escaped" which I enjoyed a bit more). I'm going to probably keep watching his films since he's proven himself to be a talented filmmaker.
No doubt this was really artsy and well made. Its a unique film you won't like it though. It aint worth checking out. Even though I'm giving it a 6/10 Why? I don't know why... You don't have any feelings for this movie you're just neutral... Like the performances