Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Au Hasard Balthazar

Robert Bresson, France, 1966, bw (8.3*)
This is a very tough film to review, as it has high marks for artistic merit, yet it's a very hard film to watch, as it involves the cruelty of man toward beasts of burden, in this case a cute little donkey named Balthazar. We follow the story of a donkey from its infancy, from good owners to completely despicable ones who have this tiny donkey pulling wagon loads of hay and people, or pulling on a water wheel, being forced with a whip to move at all. One girl in particular, played by Anne Wiazemsky, who is shunned by people as the town's local 'painted lady', is very kind to Balthazar, yet her boyfriend and his scooter gang constantly play pranks on the hapless donkey and even beat him needlessly at one point.

Semi-Spoiler Alert: This film has one of the most poignant and poetic endings on film; only the most heartless of people will not be touched or even outraged by this story. Some say it's a faith-rooted religious parable, but taken simply as the story of one animal's lifetime, it carries great weight as a moral fable. Psychologists now know that serial killers are usually cruel to animals growing up, and I can only extrapolate that people who could treat a small donkey this way could never make good parents if unfortunate enough to have kids, or even passable citizens; they'll most likely be criminals, soldiers, or prison guards, each with a streak of cruelty. Highly recommended as one of the best films from France, but with major reservations: not for kids, not for the squeamish, not for those extremely sensitive to animal treatment. #50 (2011 update) on our top ranked films on the net survey.

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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.



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