Au Hasard Balthazar, written and directed by Robert Bresson
This unique, sad, compassionate, Avant-garde, excellent motion picture is surely one of the few – the only one the undersigned knows of – with a Metascore of 100!
Critics seem to have all been enthused, exhilarated by this feature, which has at its center Balthazar, a poor donkey whose life is full of misery, and suffering at the hands of ruthless, or in some cases just stupid people.
None other than Descartes – famous for his I think therefore I am – considered “non-human” animals to be “complex organic machines” and other important thinkers thought that creatures- with the exception of man – are unable to feel.
In this light, it was all right to abuse, beat, expose them to terrible violence, with the view that it does not make them any worse and if we think of what happens in abattoirs today, or in animal farms that use intensive methods, poultry, cattle are abused on a gigantic scale.
Balthazar becomes a pet, just after he is born and children play in the hay with him, but this does not last long, for he would change hands and suffer beatings, o0ver work and the cruel sense of fun of some beats with human faces.
Marie owns the poor donkey and she becomes involved with Jacques, a heartless, creepy, monstrous, villainous individual, with the characteristics of a psychopath, inflicting pain on all around him who are weaker than he is.
A psychopath is a human being – well, more or less, for we could compare him with a donkey actually – who experiences no feelings or emotions and is able to identify and speculate the sentiments of others, very often reaching to the very top…
We could think of Donald Trump in this context
Jacques and his loathsome, despicable friends take pleasure in torturing the poor donkey in every way they can think of, from attaching to his tail rags and them setting them on fire to crackers and beatings.
These individuals bring to mind of this viewer a real life, terrible event, wherein a car – one of the worst incidents one can see – hit a poor cat and she jumped in the air, blood gushing from her head and probably the other wounds.
There was more than one witness, in fact, a group of pithecanthropus erectus was passing by and, instead of sympathizing with the dying, suffering animal, they were contorted with laughter!
It was unbelievable and one of the moments when one can see that monsters exist outside books or horror movies!
Jacques and his comrades do not limit themselves to hurting animals, but they also target Marie, given that she is defenseless and their superior power can be exerted without danger.
Most the sadists are cowards – if not all – and they attacked her in a group at one time, took her clothes off, beaten her and then locked her in an abandoned house, where she is found by her father.
For a while, the devilish character enjoyed playing with the girl, touching her, only to be rejected, toying and seducing her and once she is subjugated in this terrifying game, she is rejected and abused.
As for Balthazar, alas, this sadistic Jacques is not the only one to torment the poor beast, who has to toil under the falling whip for various men, all without a heart and selfish.
One of them is also mistreating the donkey and Marie, the latter, once abandoned by her supposed boyfriend, without food, wet and cold, takes refuge with this much older man, who wants to take advantage of her – what we would call today rape.
The hero of the story is a splendid animal, with his big eyes and ears, the long shots that concentrate on the protagonist are heartwarming and sad, when the public has to hear his cries.
One could worry about how they filmed the scenes involving the torment of the animal, even if some methods are clear, such as not showing the hero, but evoking the pain through sounds.
However, take the incident wherein the villains tie cloth to his tail and set it on fire and the animal runs away…
How did they do that?
In this age, special effects would create any image the director desires, but this is 1966 we are talking about here.
Another difficult moment is when the protagonist lies on the ground, with heavy burdens and we see him breathing, but about to expire…was that a donkey that was in his final moments?
In any case, this is an exceptional, if heart breaking drama.