Balthazar, Ozu, Riefenstahl, Russian Ark

ïThe Film Forum in New York has announced its premiere of Rialto Picture’s new print of Robert Bresson‘s masterpiece, Au hasard Balthazar (1966), for October 17-30, 2003. The film will then travel to other cities in the ensuing months. (And eventually appear on DVD.)

Their description:

A little donkey is suckled by its mother, then baptized
ìBalthazar;î a girl and boy say goodbye at the end of summer:
a vision of paradise. Years pass and the now-teenaged Marie
(Anne Wiazemsky, later Godardís wife and star, and today a
celebrated author) finds herself drifting into more and more
destructive situations, including involvement with a local
juvenile delinquent; while Balthazar moves from owner to
owner, some relatively kind, some cruel, some drunkenly careless. But, as critic J. Hoberman pointed out, ìthis is the story of a donkey in somewhat the way that Moby Dick is about a whale.î God, as ever in the work of legendary filmmaker Bresson, is in the details: the elliptical editing, with its
abrupt cuts, off-screen space, and as much focus on the hands of the non-pro cast as on their faces; sound design alternating between classical music and natural sounds; the accumulation of cruelties endured by Marie and Balthazar; and the religious symbolism, from baptism to martyrdom–with the silent Balthazar
transformed into a patient, long-suffering saint (ìthe most
sublime cinematic passage I knowî –Hoberman). In a
body of work known for its purity and transcendence, Balthazar is perhaps the most wrenching of Bresson’s visions, voted 19 in the 2002 BFI Sight & Sound critics and filmmakers poll
of all-time great films.

ìBressonís greatest film and one of the masterpieces
of the 20th century.î –Molly Haskell

ìAbsolutely magnificent . . . one of the most significant events of the cinema.î –Jean-Luc Godard

ìExtraordinary sensuality. . . it stands by itself.î –Andrew Sarris

ïThe latest issue of Film Comment has been released and thankfully it’s better material than the magazine has generally offered the past year. Its article on Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963) and his centennial celebrations is particularly of note, particularly since it’s online.

ïAnd speaking of centennials, famed filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl died at 101 this week, a supremely talented film technician and trailblazing woman whose work is notoriously difficult to reconcile with its function as Nazi propaganda during the ’30s. (“I always admitted that, yes, in the beginning I was fascinated by Hitler. I never denied that. But I had no idea what Hitler was doing,” she was to write in 1987, a variation of statements she made ad infinitum for the second half of the 20th century.) Reed Johnson offers a middling essay on Riefenstahl and the conflict between art and propaganda for the Los Angeles Times, here.

ïI picked up the new DVD of Alexander Sokurov‘s Russian Ark (2002) last night but so far have only managed to watch the documentary on the making of the film (don’t worry, I’ve already seen the picture), which I found highly enjoyable. Among other things, one learns that Sokurov was so frightened of the camera’s lense fogging as the crew moved from sub-zero temperatures outdoors to the warm interior that he actually lit a candle and prayed for a clear lense, and that cinematographer Tilman B¸ttner (wearing 90 pounds of equipment) decided to collapse 2/3 of the way into the film, but the sight of the grand ballroom filled with hundreds of costumed extras so impressed him, that he miraculously discovered his second wind.

Look for a full review of the film in the coming days.