Au Hasard Balthazar

One of the reasons my progress with the BFI’s 50 Greatest Films of All Time has slowed considerably is that I decided to watch most of the remaining films two times. I started doing this with 8 1/2 and Contempt when I had watched both films but then allowed a lot of time to pass before getting around to blogging about them. Since those films had faded somewhat from memory, I decided to watch them again and was glad I had done so since a second viewing provided deeper insight. There are a few upcoming films that are 3, 6, and 8 hours, so I doubt they’ll received the same thorough approach.

Watching Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar certainly benefited from a second watch. On the first pass, I found it interesting but a little slow. The real genius of the film came to light when I gave it a second chance.

The film presents the life and death of Balthazar, a donkey adopted by a family living in the French countryside. He eventually passes through the hands of seven owners, most of whom mistreat him. His story parallels that of the young girl, Marie (Anne Wiazemsky), from the initial family who faces her own series of difficult situations.

Early in the film, Marie, along with a couple of neighborhood children, baptize Balthazar (the name of one of the three magi as well as an alternate spelling of the king of Babylon as mentioned in the Book of Daniel). The film hints at many of the other seven Catholic sacraments and ends with Balthazar being called a saint. These religious allusions could have come across as heavy-handy, yet, somehow, Bresson is able to maintain perfect balance. Bresson never forces the allusions but often introduces them in enigmatic and suggestive ways, leaving any interpretations up to the viewer.

Equally enigmatic is Marie’s plight. The films ends with Balthazar being called a saint and his demise is captured on screen. Marie, on the other hand, vanishes from the film after a particularly horrible incident, the full nature of which is also left unexplained.

Another reason why my progress through the list has slowed down is that the films are getting increasingly complex and difficult to navigate on a first viewing. Only 40 years has passed since Battleship Potemkin and Au Hasard Balthazar and it’s amazing to witness how far both the technology and the storytelling techniques have evolved. Au Hasard Balthazar is a rich and engaging film. One that becomes more rewarding on repeated viewings.

Elite

Excellent

Very Good

Good

Questionable



August Reading Update

I finished 2 books in August to bring my total up to 22, still on a nice pace to reach my goal of 30.

I had read Stranger in a Strange Land many, many years ago, probably when I was in high school. I remembered liking it, although after 30-ish years, I couldn’t recall much about it. Earlier this year, I had picked up a copy at our local used book store and finally got around to re-reading it.

Somewhat surprisingly, I found myself remembering quite a bit as I read. It had made more of an impression than I thought. However, I am sure that, at the time, I missed a great deal about what Robert A. Heinlein was getting at. I have a much better understanding now of American culture of the late 1950s and 1960s that inform the book. The science fiction elements play a subservient role to Heinlein’s criticism and satire of both mainstream conventions and morals and the counter culture that was on the brink of blossoming into full-on hippiedom. Despite some residual sexism, Stranger in a Strange Land is an insightful novel that raises provocative questions about conventional morality, religion and consumer culture. The writing is clumsy at times and the book sometimes feels dated, but these are minor complaints for a book that is otherwise deservedly a classic.

When I first enrolled in Amazon’s Day One program, I was really excited about getting weekly stories and I diligently kept up with them. But then I was too engrossed in other books or other things going on and started letting them “pile up” or whatever it is the ebooks do when you don’t read them. I recently decided I wanted to start trying to get caught up and I read Tacos in Chicago by Elias Lindert. I hadn’t normally been counting the Day One titles as books I had read since most clock in somewhere between 20 and 40 pages. However, Tacos in Chicago was about 95 pages on my device, which as long if not longer than some other things I’ve added to my list. Tacos in Chicago is a unique tale of an American living and working in Thailand. Mai opens a taco stand outside a “ladyboy” nightclub and befriends several of the workers who are presented via the Mai’s non-judgmental point of view.

 

August Reading Update

August Reading Update

 

I finished 22 books by the end of August:



August Round Up

Because I often write in various places, I’ve decided that I would like to create an index of sorts every month to help keep track of what I’ve done where and of other things I’ve been working on. So for August 2014:

On Being and Formulating:

On SuperPlus Eats:

 

I mentioned in my last update that I had gotten my story, “The Day JoAnne Cowley, Without Warning, Quits Her Job,” accepted in The Casserole. I have since heard from them and just sent back an edited version. I have also been revising another longer story, “Every Day Is Gravy,” which might be headed toward the same self-publishing fate as King’s Long Search.

I continue watching films for the GFOAT Project but have been slow to write about them. I am growing eager to wrap this up and hope to focus more of my time on getting done. I’ve been working on it for 2 years now, so it’s time to bring it to a close.