Daily Projections, 12-29-2018: Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)

Title: Au Hasard Balthazar
Director: Robert Bresson
Country of Origin: France
Year: 1966
Screening format: Blu-ray
Setting: Home
First viewing? Yes

Another Bresson. A lot to unpack here. It’s tempting to look for a one-to-one correlation (“[Christ] made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” – and who embodies the very nature of a servant better than Balthazar, a donkey battered, beaten, and dragged around with no will of his own). But watching Au Hasard Balthazar, my thoughts continue to fall on Old Testament figures, namely Job and Hosea. After all, not all Biblical symbolism is Christological. And Balthazar is far from the only such figure. Gérard, perhaps a bit of Beelzebub in him, though I tend to look at him as Vice or Sin in general who has the run of the town and to whom the Prodigal Marie always comes when called, even if she puts up a brief, feeble fight at first. Marie, all of mankind, in possession of her own free will who twice rejects an offer of marriage from the only real Christ figure I see in Balthazar (the landowner’s son, Jacques—the landowner is God, by the way), first citing her inability to truly love him then her own checkered past as reasons not to choose him. Au Hasard Balthazar is not so much allegory, perhaps, as it is parable. But it is all masterpiece. And who (but perhaps Bresson) knew a donkey’s face could be so beautiful?

Daily Projections, 12-21-2018: Law Of The Border (1966)

Title: Law Of The Border
Director: Lütfi Ö. Akad
Country of Origin: Turkey
Year: 1966
Screening format: Blu-ray
Setting: Home
First viewing? Yes

Can a western be made outside the United States? Obviously, yes. The Italians did it. But Lütfi Ö. Akad’s Law Of The Border likewise falls along those lines, though it was produced and takes place in Turkey. Law Of The Border follows life in a small village on the border between Turkey and Syria where the local economy is driven primarily by sheep smuggling. The greatest smuggler of them all (or at least the most proficient) is Hidir (Yilmaz Güney, who also wrote the screenplay) who, though himself shoehorned by circumstance into the smuggler’s life, knows the best future for his own son lies in a formal education though the rest of the villagers are resistant to the idea of allowing a school in town. Law Of The Border highlights the way encroaching modernity (education, cars, fashionably dressed teachers) forces out and renders redundant traditional life and those who are not willing to adapt (and sometimes even those who are). There are plenty of barriers to progress in Law Of The Border – poverty, tradition, ignorance – and yet the present marches on into future. Güney looks perfectly at home with a rifle in his hand. No wonder he would become quite the action star before eventually becoming one of the most controversial filmmakers in the history of Turkish cinema and a literal outlaw.

Daily Projections, 12-20-2018: Pickpocket (1959)

Title: Pickpocket
Director: Robert Bresson
Country of Origin: France
Year: 1959
Screening format: Blu-ray
Setting: Home
First viewing? Yes

My first Bresson. Bresson, whose reputation for grace and economy precede him. Maybe Pickpocket is a strange place to start with Bresson. It’s admittedly hard to get a handle on what is going on here at first. Michel is a pickpocket, perhaps a kleptomaniac, stealing for the thrill of it. As he teams with accomplices, his exploits become more daring and yet, while Michel claims to be afraid of getting caught, it seems as if he almost invites his own downfall. After all, a thief who never locks his door when he leaves home even though there are stolen goods all over the place. Is he really that brazen? Or is there a part of him that wants to stop stealing but knows he could never chose a crime free life on his own but would have to be led to it by a power greater than he is? The pickpocketing scenes themselves are downright riveting. Tightly choreographed and elegant, they form a digital (as in fingers, not computers) ballet. Surely it is no accident, then, that the entire score of the film is comprised of works by Jean Baptiste Lully, a composer who revolutionized ballet and French dance music as a whole in the second half of the 17th century.