Gorgeous black-and-white cinematography marks every scene—indeed every shot—of Robert Bresson’s art-house perennial Au Hasard Balthazar (1966), a methodically paced, symbolic film that centers on the life of a donkey named Balthazar. That may not sound like the most appealing material for a feature film, but they key word is “symbolic.” This starts quite early when the Balthazar’s new owner’s baptize the donkey, thereby implicitly (or maybe explicitly) imbuing the animal with a soul. It is through this that Balthazar can be said to be able to become saintly. His brief, happy existence in his youngest days give way to his generally miserable life as a much abused beast of burden. Don’t get the idea that this is in any way a cute film in the Disney sense of animal movies. In other words, Brighty of the Grand Canyon this isn’t. This is a dark film about the unfairness of life and about the suffering inflicted, not just on animals, but on human beings by other human beings. It very much deserves its art-house cred.
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