ROBERT BRESSON — AU HASARD BALTHAZAR — 1966
A very nostalgic film from France nearly 60 years ago. Remember — in fact, most of you can’t — just after the reelection of de Gaulle as President of the Republic. We are in a village or small town in a rural area close to a border famous for smuggling goods one way or the other. A young donkey is born and is still fed by its mother. It is taken away to start working on the farm of a big landowner. The land and the farm are taken care of by a schoolteacher, his wife, and their daughter. Everyone in this village is characterized by cheating in one way or another to do something, mostly to make some money easily, meaning stealing, smuggling cigarettes or perfumes, or even some other ways that are not really mentioned, kind of terrorizing or blackmailing people with rumors.
The schoolteacher “inherits” the land and farm he had been taken care of, though it does not seem quite correct, well, legal things are not always ethical. His daughter Marie is some kind of targeted prize by the boys of the village. The one she had a connection with when they were under ten during the summer when that other boy, Jacques came with his family for the vacation. Some said this community is characterized by constant jealousy between people. Jealousy is not really the word I would use. It is rather envy, greed, possessiveness, and mental cannibalism, to get what other people have and you haven’t. Jealousy can be an emotion coming from love and even passion. But this greedy appropriation of what others have, money, land, women, children, and here a donkey, can lead to hatred, rivalry, and even the attempt to eliminate the competitors. This atmosphere still exists in rural areas.
The donkey is the symbol of this blind alley shortsightedness because it is the only living being here who is faithful, mostly obedient, hard-working, and easy-going when beaten or mistreated. It does know how to forgive the sins of others, here of all the humans around it. Only the girl, Marie, the daughter of the schoolteacher can love it, but she cannot protect It. And it dies one day in the mountains, of old age, of a bullet…