Au Hasard Balthazar Symposium w/Jonathan Rosenbaum
Symposium 5:45 p.m. Sunday, April 8 at Belmont United Methodist Church; screening 7 p.m. at The Belcourt
This is where you’ll find every cinephile in Nashville this weekend: at the intersection of one of our greatest films and one of our greatest film critics, as The Belcourt brings its Robert Bresson retrospective to a grand finale — fittingly, on Easter Sunday.
With exquisite, heartrending calm, Bresson’s 1966 masterpiece Au Hasard Balthazar lays out the life of a donkey, from first brays to final rest. Baptized Balthazar, the donkey goes through passages of life parallel to his early owner, a farmer’s daughter named Marie (played as an adult by Anne Wiazemsky).
Together and separately, they experience the full spectrum of man’s failings: Balthazar is kicked by passing thugs, beaten by an owner, and eventually used for theft, while Marie is seduced, abandoned and ultimately assaulted. Yet while Bresson’s vision is harsh, it’s also redemptive, even merciful. It ends on a note of quiet transcendence, as if to say all suffering, no matter how grave, cannot last.
Here to discuss the film is Jonathan Rosenbaum, the longtime Chicago Reader critic whose book Essential Cinema has become a kind of roadmap for young viewers exploring film. A presence at film festivals the world over, he constitutes a one-man resistance front to the studios’ best efforts to reduce critics to PR functionaries, and his writings on Bresson, Orson Welles and Iranian cinema have enriched our understanding of each. (He may also be the only critic to have worked with Bresson — as an extra on his 1971 film Four Nights of a Dreamer, regrettably not shown in the Belcourt retro.)
We’re grateful to Rosenbaum for returning to Nashville after his appearance last year at the “Visions of the South” film series, and we’re grateful to The Belcourt and benefactors Scott and Mimi Manzler for this gem of a retro. Below, a fitting soundtrack for the evening courtesy of David Olney, beginning at roughly 1:58.