Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film

By Lloyd Baugh | Go to book overview

5
An Exceptional Christ-Figure:
Au Hasard Balthazar

Among the many films considered in this book, Au hasard Balthazar is an exceptional film, and this for several reasons. It is exceptional because it is the work of Robert Bresson who by all accounts is an exceptional film-maker: "the most demanding, the most daring auteur of all of French cinema (and perhaps of cinema tout court)." 1 It is exceptional also because, preceded by six films and followed by six, it is the central "and most complex film" 2 of Bresson's long career as an artist, "the most ecstatic of his films," 3 the culmination of all his previous work. Speaking with Jean-Luc Godard, Bresson said about Au hasard Balthazar: "It is possible that in the other films [made before] you can find what it [Balthazar] was or would be. . . . It seems to me to be the most free film I have made, the film in which I put most of myself."4 The film is exceptional too because it is one that Bresson wants "more stubbornly than all the others," 5 a work that is in the making, at least in the mind of its auteur, for many years: "It is a film I thought about for fifteen years, a project which I had abandoned and resumed, and again abandoned and resumed because of problems in the composition." 6

Au hasard Balthazar is exceptional because it is "a difficult and mysterious film," 7 one not easily accessible either to the general public or even to a more specialized audience. This is due in part to the theme and content of the film whose moral focus, speaking very generally, is that of the conflict between good and evil, the radically "theological" confrontation between sin and grace, and whose protagonist is a donkey. The critic Jean Collet muses rather rhetorically about this apparent drastic shift in Bresson's approach:

A donkey. Yes, it is strange. It seems bizarre that a film-maker as important as Bresson would all of a sudden leave behind his family of heros, the country priest and Joan of Arc, the man condemned to death and the pickpocket, the ladies of the Bois de Boulogne and the nuns of Giraudoux. It seems bizarre that Robert Bresson would be interested himself in depicting the misfortunes of a donkey, the dismal existence of a peaceful animal. 8

Collet further qualifies the film, making a connection between the protagonist and the texture of the film, and at the same time giving some hope to the timid viewer: " Au hasard Balthazar, in the image of its hero, seems to me a film of considerable opacity. . . . But it is an opacity that tends little by little toward transparency." 9

The apparent or rather initial inaccessibility of Au hasard Balthazar is also clearly a function of Bresson's very particular inspiration and style of

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