October’s going to be a great month for cinephiles. Being one of the co-administrators of robert-bresson.com, I’m privy to news items from time to time, and here’s the latest: Rialto Pictures informs us they will premiere their new print of Robert Bresson‘s Au hasard Balthazar (1966) on October 17 at the Film Forum in New York, and it will travel to various cities in the ensuing months. (Almost all of Rialto’s releases eventually become Criterion Collection DVDs as well.)
This is significant on several accounts, two of which are that it’s probably my favorite film of all time (other close contestants include Dreyer’s Ordet and Tarkovsky’s Stalker), and that it has never been released on video in North America. Lesser considerations are that it’s one of the most internationally venerated films ever made (19th place or so in the 2002 Sight and Sound poll and 9th place in the Village Voice 100 Greatest Films of the 20th Century) and that it is widely considered Bresson’s pinnacle achievement. Jean-Luc Godard famously wrote: “Everyone who sees this film will be astonished because it is the entire world in an hour and a half.”
Bresson’s parable follows a donkey from birth through life as it bears the burden of humanity’s vices, silently, mysteriously. The animal’s life trajectory cooresponds with a teenage girl’s, Marie (Anne Wiazemsky), who teeters precariously on the edge of hope and despair on the brink of adulthood. The entire film is constructed with Bresson’s trademark clipped efficiency, challenging ellipses, and emphasis on physical and aural textures and spiritual concerns. It’s devastating and strangely comforting, paradoxical and intensely unified.
Don’t miss it.