Au Hasard du Balthasar by Robert Bresson (1966)

Still from Au Hasard du Balthasar [The Kobal Collection/Art Resource, New York]

We understand fireworks.  When its time for the big finish, the grand finale or the maximized romantic moment, we all smile and appreciate those colorful explosions in the heavens.  We love it, but in truth, a fireworks show is no match for that which occurs at our deepest level.  For that, we require subtlety, reverence, and mystery.

As Terry Glaspey writes in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:

With Au Hasard du Balthasar, Bresson investigates the spiritual impact on life through telling the story of a suffering and saintly donkey. He purposely chose a humble donkey as his lead character because of its resonance with biblical stories and because it was a beast of burden. Jean-Luc Godard once described this film as “the real world in an hour and a half,” and Bresson revealed it to be a world filled with pain, suffering, and injustice. Through the experiences of the gentle donkey we see the cruelty that humans inflict upon animals and upon each other in a heartbreaking story that reveals the depths of human sin while providing a few moments along the way where grace and redemption can be fleetingly glimpsed. Balthasar is a kind of Christ-figure, bearing the sins of man. He is innocent and holy. One woman in the film even speaks of him as “a saint.” And at the end of the film it is human selfishness and vice that cause his death. In the unforgettable closing moments, we see the wounded Balthasar stumble and fall in a mountain meadow, and as he brays out his pain he is surrounded by a flock of grazing sheep. We hear the gentle sound of the resonant bells around the necks of the sheep; a strangely moving moment that points to something mystical and sacred

How do animals help us understand deep spiritual mystery?


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

D I G  D E E P E R


Robert Besson

Robert Bresson

Born September 25, 1901, Bromont-Lamonthe, Puy-de Dôme, France—died December 18, 1999, Droué-sur-Drouette) French writer-director who, despite his limited output, has been rightly celebrated as one of the cinema’s few authentic geniuses.

Details of Bresson’s early years are sketchy, though it is known that he began painting in high school, where he excelled in languages and philosophy; that he attended Paris’s Lycée Lakanal à Sceaux; and that he was married in 1926. He pursued a painting career until 1933, when he wrote his first screenplay. The following year he directed Affaires publiques, a satiric short subject. Unable to finance a follow-up film, he wrote scripts for other directors, including René Clair. Enlisting in the army at the outbreak of World War II, he was captured by the Germans in 1940 and held prisoner of war for more than a year. When he returned to Paris, the French film industry was in such disarray that he easily found work. In 1943 he directed his first feature, Les Anges du péché.

As his career progressed, he developed a spare, minimalist style that was neither traditional nor nouvelle vague. “For me, filmmaking is combining images and sounds of real things in an order that makes them effective,” he observed. “What I disapprove of is photographing with that extraordinary instrument—the camera—things that are not real. Sets and actors are not real.” Upon gaining full creative control over his work, he filmed entirely on location, using natural sounds rather than postproduction dubbing; his only concession to artifice was the occasional burst of classical music on the sound track. He also refused to work with professional actors, preferring amateurs whose faces or voices made them suitable for the roles they were playing. Though he painstakingly rehearsed his performers, orchestrating even the smallest gesture or speech inflection, what emerged was so fresh and spontaneous that it put many a Neorealist drama to shame.

His films were straightforwardly austere, with no fancy camera work, flashy crosscutting, or other attention-getting devices. In Un Condamme à mort s’est échappé (1956; A Man Escaped), based on the director’s own wartime experiences, his no-frills approach was articulated by the opening title: “This story actually happened. I have set it down without embellishments.” Emulating his literary idols, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Georges Bernanos—whose works inspired the director’s 1950 masterpiece, Le Journal d’un curé de campagne (The Diary of a Country Priest)—Bresson often fashioned his narratives in the form of a diary or case history. The stories were told exclusively from the viewpoint of the protagonist, revealing only what the central character was experiencing at the moment. One of the most successful examples of this first-person technique was Au hasard Balthasar (1968), in which the “person” was a donkey. Bresson’s own devout Catholicism was also woven into his works; several films, notably Pickpocket (1959) and Le Procès de Jeanne d’Arc (1962; The Trial of Joan of Arc), abruptly concluded with the leading character quietly and stoically accepting the inevitability of fate.

Never bothered by the lack of popular appeal in his films nor eager to outproduce his contemporaries, Bresson turned out a mere 13 features during his four-decade career. His films have earned dozens of industry and festival awards, and Bresson himself was a recipient of France’s Legion of Honour.

Sources & Resources

Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

Bresson, Robert. Notes on the Cinematographer. Los Angeles: Green Integer, 1997.

Cunneen, Joseph. Robert Bresson: A Spiritual Style in Film. New York: Continuum, 2003.

Pipolo, Tony. Robert Bresson: A Passion for Film. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Au Hasard du Balthasar. DVD. Directed by Robert Bresson. New York: Criterion Collection, 2005.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

 

Terry Glaspey

Terry Glaspey

I’m really looking forward to discussing my book, “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know,” with the members of Literary Life Book Club. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and perspectives on some of the art, music, and literature you’ll discover in the book. I’m interested in how it speaks to you in your life and the ways it inspires, challenges, or maybe even annoys you! I’ll try to share some “deleted scenes” stuff I had to leave out and will tell a few stories about what I experienced while doing the writing and research. Hope that many of you can join us as we look at he stories behind some truly wonderful art.

Let’s explore together!

Terry

Join the discussion with Terry on Facebook HERE

Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.

He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.

He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:  Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.

Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.

He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.

Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Dig Deeper at TerryGlaspey.com

 

Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Order it HERE today.