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LEARN MORE ABOUT BALTHAZAR
BECAUSE THIS FILM is so good and so important, so much has been written about it that it is difficult to add anything new to the existing body of commentary. Indeed, many reviewers concede that doing justice to Bresson in the form of commentary, criticism, spoken tribute, or written examination is almost impossible.
Balthazar has landed on numerous 'best films ever' lists and if you are interested in critical review and analysis, several resources are listed below.
a wonderful, academically-oriented site for learning about the classics, where Bresson has his own "wing." Worth reading are the commentaries on Balthazar by Daryl Chin and Doug Cummings (the latter is found under the DVD review). Actually, everything on the site about Bresson is worth reading — he was a fascinating filmmaker and made many films.
which provides an aggregate score based on numerous professional reviewer ratings. Balthazar earned a 'fresh tomatoes' score of 100% (out of 100), with an average rating of 9.4 out of 10.
which also provides an aggregate score based on professional reviewer ratings. Balthazar earned a score of 100 (out of 100).
the Movie Review Query Engine, offering over 600,000 movie reviews and articles. The "Balthazar" page features 30+ incisively written and thought provoking reviews on the film.
with links to roughly 50 reviews and a wealth of general information about this and a gazillion other films.
this film distributor site has links to excellent Balthazar and Bresson material at the Film Forum and many other websites.
From across America, the acclaim has been universal ...
The new release of Balthazar offers a rare chance to see this 1966 French masterpiece — the finest, most deeply personal work of a filmmaker who has been compared, justifiably, to both Dostoyevsky and Bach.
The relentless commercialization of movies is understandable; people get rich off movies and more power to them. But there are other kinds of movies — those movies you carry inside you and that press on your chest — they exist nonetheless. French director Robert Bresson's 1966 film is being redistributed; there is no more important movie now in theaters. ~ L.A. Times
Au Hasard Balthazar makes large demands upon its audience, and in return confers exceptional rewards. It is the only absolutely essential moviegoing in New York. ~ New York Times
Why this film is important and why you should see it
There is really no other film like Au Hasard Balthazar; it is one of the few films that truly matter. This is a film you should see on the big screen in 35mm in a movie theatre, and one you'll want to watch again, perhaps at home, as it becomes richer with repeated viewings.
As film critic James Hoberman observed, "This is the story of a donkey in somewhat the way that Moby Dick is about a whale." Delving deeper into Bresson's masterpiece, you will see the good and bad of mankind, and witness a story rich in spiritual allegory that can be interpreted many ways, in light of your own beliefs. And while most movies confuse action and noise with meaning, Balthazar is one of those rare movies that skips gratuitous extras and yet provides everything we need. Au Hasard Balthazar presents the simplest of stories with barely any embellishment at all, but by the time it's over there are countless meanings to draw from it.
Before you become immersed in, or overwhelmed by allegory, it is important to know this: Understanding Bresson's symbolism is not essential to understanding and appreciating this wonderful film. Analysis of Bresson and his films has spawned a huge body of work, the complexity of which tends to be the inverse of the simplicity that Bresson brings to the screen. What we take away from this film comes from our emotional connection with Balthazar the donkey. That connection, spurred by Bresson's uncanny ability to elicit our emotions, comes from what the individual viewer brings to the film, and builds upon our core (and sometimes hidden) feelings about love, empathy and foregiveness.
Instead of having actors fabricate emotions to put up on the screen, Bresson causes these emotions to well up spontaneously from within us. This is not an easy thing to accomplish, and sometimes just as hard to appreciate, but Bresson was one of the few directors who could do it consistently and make it look effortless. A perfect example is the final scene of the film, where, in its pathos, depth of association and emotional immediacy, Bresson leads us to experience one of the most evocative, sublime and affecting passages in the history of film.
It is remarkable how Bresson has fashioned a tragedy which evokes so much of our lost human ideals, and a love that endures all trials, in a story about an animal. The result is, despite appearances, not a film of gloom and depression, but of strange and ineffable beauty.
This is one of the profound mysteries of Balthazar, which we'll pursue in the post-film discussion.
Balthazar will stay with you long after the lights go up. A film's effect is usually felt at the time we watch it, and its power lies in its immediacy. While Balthazar performs well in this fashion, one of Bresson's rare gifts was to create moments on film which have all the tentative and incomplete quality of actual experience, only to burn in the heart later with a mysterious sense of restored memory.
Balthazar remains as powerful today as when first released. In the blockbuster climate of 21st century cinema, Au Hasard Balthazar seems like a miracle, a breath of fresh air from another time and place, in which both artistic originality and the human spirit were equally valued. Compelling, humbling, and stunning in its visual construction, Au Hasard Balthazar is a one-of-a-kind film from an absolutely unique filmmaker.
Others have said it so well: A goodly portion of the foregoing has been condensed and concatenated from the writings of Daryl Chin and Doug Cummings, MastersofCinema.org; Chris Dashiell, CineScene.Com; Wheeler Dixon, All Movie Guide; Roger Greenspun, New York Times; Serdar Yegulalp, TheGline.Com and Jeff Shannon, the Seattle Times.
AS WAS THE CASE with Army of Shadows (screened by CWC in 2007) and Battle of Algiers (screened by CWC in 2004) it took a few years for this film to reach America. In 1970, it was screened in the U.S. at film festivals and the NY Film Forum, celebrated by critics and festival attendees, did not receive a national roll-out and essentially disappeared from the American film scene.
BUT BACK IN 1970, American minds were elsewhere and the top movies were Patton, Tora! Tora! Tora!, A Clockwork Orange, M*A*S*H and Airport. Exhibitors and general audiences paid scant attention to the little-known director from France and his black-and-white parable about the meaning of life that featured a donkey, set in a rural French farm village.
THANKS TO RIALTO PICTURES, 33 years later there came a new 35mm print with new translations and new subtitles and the film was released in October, 2003. Amazingly, this was the first-ever theatrical release of this film in the U.S., which sadly did not include Cincinnati. Since then, the critics have again been effusive and the film has been excellently received by moviegoers at festivals, retrospectives, museum and film society screenings, etc.
Paul Clark & Mendle Adams
Paul Clark is Arts and Entertainment editor at the Cincinnati Enquirer, where he previously worked as copy editor, environmental reporter, and editor for specialty beats. Over the years Paul has also written three regular features for The Enquirer: "Curious Digressions," a weekly CD feature; "Back Streets," a thrice-weekly column on local history, and "Pulse," devoted to nightlife.
A native of Tucson, Arizona, Mr. Clark came to The Enquirer in 1997 from the news desk of the Baltimore Sun. Before that, he worked at the Cincinnati Post in a variety of reporting and editing positions, including assistant city editor and movie critic.
Reverend Mendle Adams is the Pastor of St. Peter's United Church of Christ in Pleasant Ridge. His formal education includes undergraduate degrees from Wesleyan University in Marion, and the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, both in Indiana. He pursued graduate work at Aquinas College and Harvard University.
In addition to his responsibilities with the United Church of Christ, Mendle is noted for his extensive civic involvement and commitment to education and social justice. Reverend Adams is a member of the Racial Justice Youth Ministry Advisory Council, a member of the national board of directors of The Consent of the Governed, and a member of the local chapter of the Interfaith Alliance.
ANNE WIAZEMSKY (Marie)
One of the few Bresson actors to go professional, Anne Wiazemsky was born in 1947, the granddaughter of the famous French Catholic novelist François Mauriac. Her first film after Balthazar (her screen debut at age 17) was Jean-Luc Godard's La Chinoise (1967) after which she became the director's second wife (after his divorce from Anna Karina). Wiazemsky was Godard's female lead during his didactic, revolutionary period, appearing in Weekend (1967), One + One (1968), Wind from the East (1969), Luttes en Italie (1969), Vladimir and Rosa (1970) and Tout va bien (1972). Her other major collaboration in this period was with Pier Paolo Pasolini, who cast her in Teorema (1968) and Pigpen (1969).
Wiazemsky gradually withdrew from film acting to devote herself to writing. She has won several literary prizes for her short stories and novels. Her 1998 novel Une poignée de gens, about Russian émigrés following the October Revolution, received the Grand Prize as best novel, voted by the Académie Française. Recently her novel Hymne à l'amour was adapted into a film titled Toutes ces Belles Promesses, winner of the 2003 Jean Vigo award.
GHISLAIN CLOQUET (Director of Photography)
Born in Belgium in 1924, Cloquet trained at the famous IDHEC film school in Paris after World War II. He began his career as lighting cameraman on Alain Resnais' famous short films Les Statues meurent aussi (1953), Night and Fog (1955) and Toute la mémoire du monde (1956). In 1960, he photographed Jacques Becker's final masterpiece, Le Trou and Claude Sautet's debut feature, Classe tous risques. Working with equal mastery in black & white and color, Cloquet photographed Jacques Demy's The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) and Donkey Skin (1970). He lit all the major films of his countryman, André Delvaux, shot Louis Malle's The Fire Within (1963), and followed Balthazar with two other Bresson collaborations, Mouchette (1967) and Une femme Douce (1969). Cloquet also worked with Marguerite Duras, Claude Berri and Nina Companeez. He worked with Arthur Penn on Mickey One (1965) and Four Friends (1981), his last feature; shot Woody Allen's Love and Death (1975), and shared an Academy Award with Geoffrey Unsworth for Roman Polanski's Tess (1979). Cloquet also worked in television.
MAG BODARD (Producer)
Born in Turin, Italy, in 1916, Mag Bodard was one of the leading French film producers of the 60s and 70s before turning to television. She produced or co-produced three Jacques Demy films (Umbrellas of Cherbourg, 1963, The Young Girls of Rochefort, 1966 and Donkey Skin, 1970), two other Bresson films (Mouchette, 1967, and Une Femme Douce, 1969), Godard's Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967) and La Chinoise (1967), Agnés Varda's Le Bonheur (1964) and Les Créatures (1965), Alain Resnais' Je t'aime, je t'aime (1967), the first features of Maurice Pialat (L'enfance nue, 1968) and Claude Miller (The Best Way, 1975), André Delvaux's Un soir, un train (1968) and Rendezvous à Bray (1971) as well as films by Michel Deville, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Raoul Coutard, Claude Jutra, Gilles Carles and Hennig Carlsen. Her longest collaboration has been with writer-director Nina Companeez, who has made all of her feature films and television miniseries with Bodard (a dozen titles). Still active today, Bodard was be the subject of a French radio tribute hosted by Anne Wiazemsky on December 22nd, 2003.
LENNY BORGER (English Subtitles)
Born and raised in Brooklyn, translator and film historian Lenny Borger has lived for 25 years in Paris, where he was the long-time correspondent and critic for Variety. He has re-titled all of Rialto Pictures' French classics since the company's acclaimed re-release of Grand Illusion in 1999. Prior to Balthazar, he tackled the French argot of Jules Dassin's Rififi, Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob le Flambeur and Army of Shadows, Julien Duvivier's Pépé le Moko, Henri-Georges Clouzot's Quai Des Orfévres and Jacques Becker's Touchez pas au Grisbi - all reissued theatrically by Rialto. He has also created sorely-needed new subtitles for the DVD releases of Marcel Carné's Children of Paradise, three classics by René Clair (Under the Roofs of Paris, Le Million and A Nous la Liberté), Clouzot's Le Corbeau, and Renoir's Rules of the Game. Working with fellow translator Cynthia Schoch, Borger has also subtitled recent films by Bertrand Tavernier, Patrice Chéreau and Jean-Luc Godard.
Rialto Pictures, a company specializing in the re-release of classic films, was founded in 1997 by Bruce Goldstein. A year later, Goldstein was joined by Adrienne Halpern as co-president. In 2002, Eric DiBernardo joined the company as National Sales Director. Rialto's releases have included Renoir's Grand Illusion, Carol Reed's The Third Man, Fellini's Nights of Cabiria, Jules Dassin's Rififi, De Sica's Umberto D., Godard's Contempt, Band of Outsiders and A Woman is a Woman, Melville's Bob Le Flambeur, Julien Duvivier's Pépé le Moko, Buñuel's Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and Diary of a Chambermaid, John Schlesinger's Billy Liar, Clouzot's Quai des Orfévres, Mike Nichols' The Graduate, Mel Brooks' The Producers, and many others.
In 2003, Rialto had tremendous success with Le Cercle Rouge, a late noir masterwork by Jean-Pierre Melville, being released for the very first time in its complete, uncut version, and Jacques Becker's French gangster classic Touchez pas au Grisbi. Also in 2003, Rialto re-released Georges Franju's Eyes without a Face, described by Pauline Kael as "perhaps the most elegant horror film ever made," and in early 2004 released Gillo Pontecorvo's groundbreaking and influential The Battle of Algiers. The release of Melville's Army of Shadows came in 2006.
In 1999, Rialto received a special "Heritage Award" from the National Society of Film Critics. In 2000, Rialto received a special award from the New York Film Critics for its re-release of Rififi, presented to Goldstein and Halpern by Jeanne Moreau. The Rialto partners have each received the French order of Chevalier of Arts and Letters.
Although Bresson made only thirteen films over forty years, together they represent a body of work that is unparalleled in its stylistic consistency and the strength of its singular vision. Aside from Jean-Luc Godard, no other post-war French filmmaker's influence has spanned so many generations of filmmakers, so many countries, and such diverse aesthetics.
A Sample of the Critical Acclaim
for "Au Hasard Balthazar"
"One of the 20 great films of the 20th century."
-- British Film Institute International Critics & Filmmakers Poll
"One of the 10 greatest films of the 20th century."
-- Village Voice Critics Poll
"All-time Top Ten"
-- Manohla Dargis (critic)
-- Adrian Martin (critic)
-- Molly Haskell (critic)
-- Donald Richie (critic/historian)
-- Gavin Smith (critic/editor)
-- Amy Taubin (critic)
-- Gavin Lambert (critic/screenwriter)
--Jean Luc Godard (filmmaker, film historian)
-- Michael Haneke (filmmaker)
-- Aki Kaurismaki (filmmaker)
In an interview, Bresson described how the film got its title: "In the south in Les Baux there is an aristocratic family that pretends to be the descendants of the Magus Balthazar, and so on their crest they wrote "Au Hasard Balthazar." [Balthazar, by chance]. I found it by accident, and the whole story of Balthazar is his chance involvement in the lives of others, so I decided to use this title, which, besides, has a very beautiful rhyme."
The film tells the story of Marie, an unlucky farm girl, and her beloved donkey Balthazar. A little donkey is suckled by its mother, then baptized "Balthazar;" a girl and boy say goodbye at the end of summer: a vision of paradise. Years pass, the pair become separated, and the now-teenaged Marie (Anne Wiazemsky, later Godard's wife and star, and today a celebrated author, who has been described as a "living Vermeer" and closely resembles Scarlet Johansson) 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 film critic J. Hoberman pointed out, "this is the story of a donkey in somewhat the way that Moby Dick is about a whale."
The film traces Marie and Balthazar's fates as they continue to live a parallel existence, their paths intertwining "au hasard" - by chance. This, Bresson's most original script (one of his few films not adapted from a literary text), is the first film in which he begins to fully confront modern cruelty. His counterpoint to Balthazar's innocence and beauty is Gerard, (François Lafarge), a petty small-town punk who's the runt of the litter of black-leather-jacketed angry young men, a down-market James Dean or Brando. Gerard, a gleefully sadistic hoodlum who abuses nearly everything he encounters, and his cronies light firecrackers in the street outside a party that will soon turn violent, and Marie's mother voices our bafflement: "What do you see in that boy?" Marie's answer explains nothing, but tells everything: "I love him. Do we know why we love someone? If he says 'come,' I come. 'Do this,' and I do it. I'd follow him anywhere. If he asked me to, I'd kill myself for him." A firecracker explodes, we see Balthazar flinch, and a whole constellation of dreadful, fateful connections is made between girl and donkey. Bresson continually associates Gerard with the growling sound of the delinquent's moped and blaring transistor radio, two objects of modernity that violently penetrate the pastoral atmosphere. Gerard and his gang vandalize roads, terrorize Balthazar, and physically abuse Marie, who seems so resigned to her fate that she rejects the one character--her childhood friend Jacques--who offers her unconditional love.
Marie and Balthazar involuntarily become martyrs, eventually taking the sins of others upon their own heads and finding transcendence in the process. Au Hasard Balthazar is like Bresson's other works in that it seamlessly combines the naturalistic and the spiritual.
The profundity of Balthazar--no doubt a primary reason why it was voted one of the top 20 films of all time in an international poll--lies not in its fragments, but in its overall harmony, the way Bresson fashions a sense of balance between suffering and beauty, will and passivity, exactitude and suggestion, chance and inevitability, life and death. This elevates the film to the highest artistic plane and its steady stream of contradictions appear as necessary truths, firmly placing the viewer between the knowable and the unknowable, the world that's perceived and the world that's hidden, intangibly ordered, and finally perhaps, revealed. In a body of work known for its purity and transcendence, Au Hasard Balthazar is perhaps the most poignant and astute of Bresson's visions.
Bresson was a Jansenist, a strain of Catholicism that stresses divine grace and man's distance from God. One reviewer wrote. "His films -- lean, minimalist fables all -- occasionally allow for sudden bolts of transcendence, but in "Balthazar" we have all fallen and we can't get up. The donkey is merely present as witness, servant, and martyr: Our Beast of Metaphysical Burden."
Balthazar's lifelong sufferings are interpretable as a Christian allegory. At the same time, the story line encourages the possibility that God has forgotten or forsaken our world, if he exists for us all. That Bresson engages in religious symbolism is beyond dispute -- his Catholicism resonates in Balthazar's 'baptism' and the donkey's ultimate sacrifice to expiate our sins. This symbolism is consistent with Bresson's philosophy throughout his career - see the Bresson biography and filmology in the section which follows.
Nonetheless, thematic interpretations abound, some fueled by the director's own comments. Bresson, on the French television program Pour le Plaisir offered this perspective, "This character [Balthazar] resembles the Tramp in Chaplin's early films, but it's still an animal, a donkey, an animal that evokes eroticism yet at the same time evokes spirituality or Christian mysticism, because the donkey is of such importance in the Old and New Testaments, as well as ancient Roman churches." The bottom line is that Bresson immerses us in life as a donkey experiences it, and instead of identifying with the creature because he's almost human, we identify with him because we're almost animals.
It is sort of like the old Certs commercials - "is it a breath mint, or is it a candy mint? ... Yes! It's two mints in one!" And here, the interpretation is up to the viewer: Jansen Catholicism or minimalist naturalism? Or an amalgam of both? No matter. Bresson's Christian spirituality finds its most earthy, layered and life-giving expression, and Grace has never been dramatized more lucidly, or more movingly, than it is in Au Hasard Balthazar. Without disputing Bresson's intellectual focus on morality (and his belief in its decline) in Balthazar, it is an overwhelmingly sensual film, a thing of immense visual beauty, with some of the most glistening and genuinely radiant images ever put on film.
Bresson had a very strict definition of what was "natural" and warned against blind respect of the natural: "Unfiltered reality will not of itself create truth." According to his Notes on Cinematography, it is impossible to preserve the beauty of the true by merely recording things, one must attempt to capture the inner reality. "I want the essence of my films to be not the words my people say or even the gestures they perform, but what these words and gestures provoke in them.
When interviewed about what religious impact the film might have on its audience, Bresson declined to comment specifically, instead focusing his discourse on the mysteries of life and nature. This is not so much backing away from the issue as it is simply Bresson being Bresson. Through the compression and fragmentation of his film narrative, Bresson provided only just enough information for the viewer to grasp the essentials of the story. The rest was up to the viewer to extricate and parse. So in that sense his interview response was consistent. Indeed, Bresson would often say that the key points were hidden for the viewer to discover; with the most important points the most hidden or disguised.
One thing is certain: you do not have to be a Catholic, or even a Christian, to appreciate this film. Protestant, Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, Wiccan, believer in the Great Spirit or a Supreme Being, and even those with no spiritual conviction, will all be captivated by Bresson's masterpiece. Bresson's approach is so direct and natural that the film doesn't play like "meaningful" or "message" cinema. Its appeal is as basic as a silent melodrama minus the overt sentimentality.
1) Bio and Filmography
The known facts of Robert Bresson's life are as elliptical and mysterious as many of his films. Though his official year of birth was 1907, he was in fact born in 1901, in Bromont-Lamothe, in the Auvergne region. His father was an officer. His first vocation was painting, and occasionally photography.
He entered the film industry in the early 30s, working as a screenwriter and assistant on a handful of films. In view of his later career, Bresson made one of the most surprising of writing-directing debuts in 1934: Les Affaires Publiques, a medium-length farce which featured a famous clown named Béby (the subject of Jean-Pierre Melville's first film short in 1946) and future Grand Illusion player Marcel Dalio. Long believed lost, it was rediscovered (in a truncated version) at the Cinémathéque Française in the mid-80s. 50 years later, Bresson remarked: "Seeing it again, I was surprised to more or less find the way I seize on things and put them together, the way in which the shots follow one another."
Bresson had to wait another decade before making his feature debut. After being a POW, he returned to Occupied Paris to find backers for his film projects. His first two films had distinctive literary pedigrees: Les Anges du Péché (1943), a spiritual melodrama set in a convent, was scripted by Jean Giraudoux, and Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (1945), was adapted from Diderot's Jacques le Fataliste by Jean Cocteau. Both were cast with professional actors against whom Bresson would revolt beginning with his next film, The Diary of a Country Priest (1951), an adaptation of Georges Bernanos's novel that brought the filmmaker to international attention and marked the birth of his ascetically mature screen style. By the end of the decade Bresson produced two more masterpieces, A Man Escaped (1956), an extraordinary blend of prison escape movie suspense and spiritual quest no doubt enriched by his own experiences as a POW in 1940, and Pickpocket (1959), the first film for which he wrote an original scenario not adapted from an existing work.
Bresson's next film, The Trial of Joan of Arc (1962) is often considered to be his least successful film, its austerity making Dreyer's version seem lavish by comparison. On the other hand, Bresson reached his critically acclaimed apogee with Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) and Mouchette (1967), in which he returned to Bernanos for his material. He next turned to Dostoevsky for the plots of his next two films: Une femme Douce (1969) was his first in color and introduced French actress Dominique Sanda, and Four Nights of a Dreamer (1972).
Lancelot of the Lake (1974) was Bresson's second period recreation (after Joan of Arc) and also divided the critics. Nor was The Devil, Probably (1977) rated among Bresson's finest works. Bresson was 81 when he made his last film, L'Argent (1982), based on a Tolstoy novella. Shown at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival, it shared a consolation prize (the Grand Prix du cinema de création) with Andrei Tarkovsky's Nostalgia. During the 80s, Bresson tried in vain to mount a production of Genesis, a retelling of the Bible.
Bresson published a volume of observations and aphorisms on the cinema in 1975, Notes sur le cinématographe (inaccurately translated as Notes on the Cinematographer in its English language edition). Robert Bresson died on Dec. 18, 1999 at the age of 98.
2) Unique Approach to Filmmaking
Although Bresson made only thirteen films over forty years, together they represent a body of work that is unparalleled in its stylistic consistency and the strength of its singular vision. Aside from Jean-Luc Godard, no other post-war French filmmaker's influence has spanned so many generations of filmmakers, so many countries, and such diverse aesthetics. Bresson's contribution to modern cinema has, however, only relatively recently come to proper recognition.
Rejecting the tradition of "quality cinema", Bresson avoided studio shooting and explained that a false use of lighting was just as dangerous as a false word or a false gesture. Bresson used a simple 50mm lens, and rejected elaborate camera movements including dolly or panoramic shots, which, in his opinion, did not correspond to our way of seeing. From this same realist sentiment came Bresson's refusal to use trained actors in his films: "For me, film-making is combining images and sounds of real things in an order that makes them effective. What I disapprove of is photographing things that are not real. Sets and actors are not real." The reality found in Bresson's films is of a peculiar type; an abstraction of real life which heightens and intensifies selected aspects of human existence, while paring away all unnecessary details. Thus, the creation of art out of distilled reality, so essential to Bresson's vision, takes place not in the subject or content of the film, but in the structure of the narrative.
Jean-Pierre Oudart discusses Bresson's modernist approach, where true meaning is not found in the subject of the film, but in the way that cinematic elements and formal structures are themselves used: "it is no longer for the character to SAY it, or for a subjective fiction to PRODUCE it, but for the literal image, as a cinematographic construct, to EXPRESS it." Bresson avoids conventional narrative structure, preferring to replace it through a unique use of framing, editing, image, sound, and music. In his films, these formal elements come together as a highly stylized but expressive language through which he can highlight his central concerns.
Bresson's characteristic understatement is clearly seen in his unconventional use of ellipsis. Through the careful editing of transitions, directors are able to minimize gaps between shots and scenes, artfully removing "unnecessary" transitions through a montage of actions that appear to seamlessly bridge them. Thus the appearance of narrative continuity is maintained. Bresson's frequent use of ellipsis, on the other hand, seems dedicated to maximizing our sense of discontinuity.
The use of this device in Balthazar seems to undermine conventional narrative structure, as the audience is not passively told a story, but asked, in a way, to fill in the blanks with their own interpretation.
The use of sound in Bresson's films is particularly significant, as its implementation corresponds with the film-maker's desire to eliminate distractions and leave the imagination of his viewers free. Bresson explains that: "each time I can replace an image with a noise, I do so", because "the ear is profound, whereas the eye is frivolous, too easily satisfied. The ear is active, imaginative, whereas the eye is passive. When you hear a noise at night, instantly you imagine its cause. The sound of a train whistle conjures up the whole station. The eye can perceive only what is presented to it." Sound is one of Bresson's most important sources of narrative economy; it never duplicates an image, and often replaces one. It provides an essential structural dimension, creating depth, and making characters and their surroundings tangible. Thus sounds, in Bresson's films, are never treated as mere consequences of visible actions, but stand on their own and carry meaning.
As his fragmented use of sounds, images and music suggests, Bresson is not reproducing reality, but communicating his impressions of reality in a way that is meaningful (to him). "In order to gain a true impression of something", he states, "one must strip away all that prevents one from grasping it." However, simply calling Bresson's cinematographic style 'minimalist' does not allow for a true understanding of Bresson's complex stylistic system. As the Ontario Cinematheque's James Quandt points out, Bresson's unique vision creates: "...a cinema of paradox, in which "the denial of emotion creates emotionally overwhelming works, minimalism becomes plenitude, the withholding of information makes for narrative density, fragmentation evokes a sense of the world's wholeness, and attention to 'the surface of the work', as Bresson called it, produces inexhaustible depth."
Several film authorities suggest that perhaps Bresson's depiction of reality would be better described as "essentialist" rather than "minimalist", as the film-maker creates a maximum effect with minimal means.
Once past the novelty of Bresson's highly formalistic style, what impresses one most is not his rigor, but his vigor, not his highly structured system, but what is he able to express within this system. And within this energy, what surfaces is its profundity.
For Bresson's particular style has been created in pursuit of something far greater than intellectual formalism: an artistic expression of the nature of human existence.