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Au Hasard Balthazar Review


Essential
You won't read about Robert Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar in any art history book. You won't go to a museum to see his work on display or study his theory about actors as models. Unless you go looking for cinematic art of the caliber of Bresson's reflection of man's nature through the story of a donkey and his seven owners, no one will force you to watch Balthazar, in hopes of enriching your culture and appreciation of art. Unfortunately, it's likely that Balthazar is as lost on today's audience as the saintly donkey that bears man's burdens on his back only to be beaten, neglected and, finally, rejected.

Granted, the story of a donkey Christ figure is laughably pretentious. Except in Bresson's hands, the heavy metaphor isn't the point of the film, but rather its driving force. There's no mystery in the donkey Balthazar's role in the film. Early on he is baptized, called a saint, dons a crown of flowers, an allegorical crown of thorns, and is bound by the coarse bridles of man's burdens, be it the harness at a winery or carting bags of smuggled goods. While many films hide their metaphors under convoluted plots and characterizations, Balthazar wears its symbolism on its sleeve, which is also seen in the film's other characters. There is no time spent wondering about the role or motives of the young girl whose innocence is violently lost but remains in love. She is just that and nothing more; just as her prideful father or the town drunk. The depth of Bresson's film isn't in the archetypal characters, but how they interact with each other and the world. We don't relate to any of the characters' archetypes, especially the donkey, but we can sympathize with what they stand for, as they each represent an extreme of human experience. At some point in time, we have been one of these characters in some regard.

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The Umbrellas of Cherbourg Review


Essential
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg stunned audiences at the Cannes Film Festival in 1964, landing the prestigious Palme d'Or. What the audience responded to was a triple whammy of film innovation that's just as powerful today as it was then: An explosion of color on film in league with the best of the Technicolor musicals, an entirely-sung script that's anchored by Michel Legrand's heart-busting theme, but most of all the breakout performance of Catherine Deneuve. She'd show off her range as an actress most powerfully three years later in Belle De Jour. But here's where she - along with the film musical itself - is the most gorgeous and captivating.

Deneuve is Genevieve, who somewhat sullenly assists her widowed mother (Anne Vernon) in running an umbrella shop in Cherbourg, a provincial town of cobblestone streets. Just 17 years old (though Deneuve was 20 when she took the role), she falls impetuously and deeply in love with Guy (Nino Castelnuovo), a charming garage mechanic. His head cocks sweetly when he sings to her, and part of the magic of the film is in watching the two stand thisclose to one another and moon as they sing.

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Donkey Skin Review


OK
If you see just one film with a donkey that craps gold and jewels, see this one. Jacques Demy's bizarre fairy tale stars his favorite muse, Catherine Deneuve, in a story unlike anything you've ever seen: A king attempts to marry his own daughter (Deneuve), so she's whisked away in a donkey skin by her fairy godmother. Did I mention the blue people and the donkey that craps gold? Fine for kids.

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