“Au Hazard Balthazar” and “Devil Probably” are films where plot and meaning are highly stylized by the director’s unique manner of uniting/fusing his intellectual and aesthetic maneuvers into one alive cinematic organism.

The donkey “Balthazar” in “Au Hazard” symbolizes not only the human body but the human soul, while the bodies of the young people in “Devil” symbolize the very intelligence of nature as a pantheistically spiritual creation.

In the two films (separated by the period of eleven years), Bresson compares the ignorantly indifferent and the passively cruel position of a modern society (obsessed with wealth and glamour and occupied with philistinism of “success” and competition) towards children and youth. With grace of a seeker for truth and with a sarcasm of moral frustration, Bresson depicts how today’s system of values becomes more and more anti-spiritual, and for this reason more and more anti-human.

Moral radicalism of both films addresses the heart of the viewers with an insistency and intensity of a prophet’s demand, and it could be unbearable to receive, if not visual harmony and the rhythmic beauty of Bresson’s narrations.

These films – two chapters in the history of Western sensibility, is a scandalous verdict on the behavioral anti-Christianity of the so called Christian societies.

Balthazar and Marie (Anne Wiazemsky) and the young people in “Devil Probably” – Charles, Valentin, Edwige, Alberte, Michel and others belong to a chain of victims of human civilization. They refuse to be winners of fight for survival and success on the conditions of factual society demanding from people cruelty and/or indifference to others. These people, including Balthazar who is a metonymy of universal soul and sacredness of the universe’s matter, are for Bresson personification of spirituality of the world.

Bresson’s very style is aesthetics of establishing a community of equality with the world, when appropriation and manipulation of reality through camera “hard work” (through camera as a tool/instrument of cinematic medium) could be too crude and vain approach to the world. Bresson’s aesthetics of gentle hints and hypothetical suggestions makes him master of exceptional cinematic-semantic sensitivity (a person of a unique stance in the history of intellectual cinema).

Bresson on the set of “Au Hazard Balthazar”

Gerard wants Marie to be his girlfriend. But for him, a soloist of the church chorus, there is no place in life for tenderness or eroticism. He wants to dominate her as an authority, will and in his bodily needs. He knows that with her he doesn’t have a chance to be loved, but he also knows that she feels isolated – her father is too idealistic and far from life, and people impressed by dirty gossips about her, project on her their suspicion and hate. He knows that Marie will not make noise in response to his demands.

Marie doesn’t like Gerard and doesn’t hide it, but he doesn’t care about “sentimental” side of things. He needs her, not her love. He, practically, blackmails her with a scandal that will make her reputation in the community even worse, whatever she could say.

Marie doesn’t have a choice but to surrender. Prejudicial community is a proper environment for rapist and criminal. Justice expects from people objectivity of judgment. Marie is like the donkey Balthazar who tolerates the abuses of its owners. Bresson hints at the limitations of the traditional concept of sainthood.

Marie cannot believe that Gerard won’t leave her alone as soon as she let him know that she doesn’t love him. She can’t believe that it is possible to be without soul.

Balthazar with one of its owners – a homeless Arnold, a kind of a dark saint, alcoholic, abuser and a victim

Balthazar during his spectacular career at the circus interrupts its performance when it notices his previous owner Arnold in the audience. Donkey’s love for Arnold was, obviously, stronger than its glorious future and memory of being kicked and beaten by this drifter and drunk.

Charles spends the night inside the church listening to what for him is an alternative to living, but art of serious music, like any real (disinterested) art cannot save from life. More, it can make the situation of the soul worse.

Charles is more and more hopeless inside the human world.

Edwige and Alberte both are dedicated to Charles…

… but worldly poison that killing him, makes even their love helpless and fruitless.

Posted Sep 7 2010 –   Robert Bresson’s “Au Hazard Balthazar” (1966) and “Devil probably” (1977) – Balthazar, Marie, Charles, Alberte, Edvige, Valentine…  by Acting-Out Politics