The Holy Bray

The title character of Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) is a donkey who goes through a series of owners in his sad life as a beast of burden.

Films about animals or featuring them as the main protagonists are usually the province of Walt Disney and other family friendly productions such as Benji (1974) and March of the Penguins (2005). Other than the horror genre, though, there have been relatively few departures from the usual formulaic approach to this type of movie with Jerome Bolvin’s dark satire Baxter (1989) and the ethnographic Story of the Weeping Camel (2003) being two of the rare exceptions. Yet nothing can really compare with Au Hasard Balthazar (1966), directed by French filmmaker Robert Bresson, which stands alone as a profound and singular achievement in this category.   Continue reading

All of Them Witches

Lisbeth Movin stars as Anne Pedersdotter, a young widow accused of witchcraft in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Day of Wrath (1943).

When social order breaks down, rational thought or common sense do not always follow. The result could be the kind of mass paranoia and hysteria that created the persecution of people as witches in Europe during the 13th to 15th century as well as in America (the Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692). That shameful chapter in history has been the subject of numerous books and literary works such as Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible.  As for the cinema, most movie critics seem to agree that the finest film to ever address this kind of aberrant phenomenon is Carl Theodore Dreyer’s Vredens dag (1943, English title: Day of Wrath).   Continue reading

Love Hurts

Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson have a traumatic love affair in Autumn Leaves (1956).

Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson have a traumatic love affair in Autumn Leaves (1956).

In 1956 directed Robert Aldrich surprised everyone by trying his hand at a “woman’s picture,” a melodramatic soap opera that on the surface appeared to be a complete departure from his previous work which included two westerns (Apache, Vera Cruz), a film noir (Kiss Me Deadly) and a drama (The Big Knife), whose emotional volatility equals the physical violence in the three preceding films.  Continue reading