nausheen ishtiaq-chen

Au Hasard Balthazar

Au Hasard Balthazar‘s final scene is filled with juxtapositions: the juxtaposition of movement and stillness, of the silence of Balthazar and the sounds of the sheep and dogs, of the ebbing away of Balthazar’s life with the newness of the life of the young sheep, and of the heaviness of Balthazar’s movements and his burden with the lightness and nimbleness of the sheep. The final juxtaposition is that of the carefree disappearance of the sheep from the frame, and the lifeless presence of Balthazar firmly planted in the scene, unable to escape.

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The last scene of the film opens with an establishing shot of Balthazar, framed by bushes. The slope in the foreground gives the shot an uneasy feel to it, even though the bushes on either side of Balthazar seem to provide some semblance of symmetry. The framing of Balthazar seems to compress him and makes him seem very small, as the bushes seem to be closed in on him. Nevertheless, Balthazar breaks the repression of the bushes as well as the intimidating uphill slope by breaking across it.

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The scene cuts to a close-up, establishing Balthazar’s wound. This, for me, as a watcher of just the final scene of the film without having seen the rest of it, was a very jarring as well as meaningful shot. It immediately established what the rest of the scene would entail – elaboration of the wound, and perhaps the fateful end of the poor beast. As the closeup is so extreme, it is also not immediately obvious where the wound is – until Balthazar starts moving. The closeup emphasizes the magnitude of the wound. It is also meaningful and symbolic that Bresson included the chain the shot, perhaps to add the symbolism of slavery.

bal3When Balthazar walks across the screen to the edge of the cliff, the horizon seems tilted because of the slope that Balthazar is walking on. This emphasizes the stressful nature of the scene as well as imbibing it with an element of anticipation. The shot continues the uneasiness of the establishing shot, with a labile balance. Balthazar however strides across the scene, almost as if in a hurry, and cuts clean across the shot in the middle – signifying his head-on confrontation with the scene and his bravery and endurance even while suffering immense pain.

bal4The shot shifts to reveal to us what Balthazar is listening to, or looking out for. The herd of sheep appear from the right-hand of the shot, where we can spot them very easily despite their small size because of the magnitude of the wide-angle pan-shot of the landscape. The smallness of the sheep is further emphasized by the negative space surrounding them. The uneasiness of the scene continues with more slopes, providing tilted lines for us so that we cannot fully or simply rejoice in t
he supposed serenity of the scene. Perhaps the smallness of the size of the sheep is emphasized to signify that any hopes that Balthazar may have had of help arriving had been smashed.

bal5Sound: the ringing of the sheep bells, and the harsh sound of the dog barking – the barking provides further dissonance to the scene, again serving as a reminder that the scene that we are watching is not one of an idyllic landscape but is interspersed with some kind of harshness, or jarring quality. The line of sheep follows good continuation, leading the sheep to form a sharp index vector, trickling into an already present herd. The vector guides our eyes to the front of the screen and the rows of sheep form closure to lead us to believe that there are multitudes of sheep that are already collecting in the space in the foreground.

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  When the shot is revealed further, we realise why the index vector of the sheep was pointing towards the front of the screen: Balthazar is revealed as surrounded by the sheep. He is as uneasily boxed in by the sheep as he was by the bushes. The shot closes in, compressing Balthazar once again, and yet ensuring that the center of attention remains focused on him as the rest of the sheep are perceptibly bunched together for us due to their proximity and similarity.

The sheep continue moving as both the shot and Balthazar remain fixed. This further isolates Balthazar from the sheep, even while he is surrounded by them: the sheep unite themselves into a common fate by continuing their motion, and Balthazar’s fixed stance is a stark contrast to this mobility.

bal7Interestingly, when the sheep leave, the camera does not move – neither does Balthazar. Both seem rooted to the scene. The dark color of Balthazar contrasts with the light wool of the sheep. The heaviness of Balthazar – his uneasy load, his horizontal stance, contrasts with the nimble nature of the sheep almost fluttering around him with abandon.

When the camera lingers on this shot, the movement of the sheep becomes slower. The sheep seem to trickle away from the shot, almost mirroring the life that seems to be seeping away from Balthazar.

bal8The movement of the sheep in the next shot (the cut shows a time lapse) is diagonal, and parallel to Balthazar’s body lying on the grass. Ironically, the vectors of Balthazar’s body and the sheep’s movement seem to be aligned – perhaps showing a strange connection between life and death, or the cliched circle of life.

The sheep scurry out of the shot, in an index vector pointed away from the screen, perhaps signifying that their action takes place elsewhere, not within the frame.

bal9The ending scene of the film leaves Balthazar alone, placed in the center but towards the top edge of the frame – almost being pulled up by the frame (towards the heavens?) The scene is poignant in it’s simplicity, and the limbs and body are in stiff lines – signalling that perhaps we should not expect any more action from either Balthazar or the film.

 

All pictures are screenshots from the video by me.

 

 

 

1 Comment

  1. excellent and thorough analysis, great job. it is such a heartbreaking moment in cinema, and I appreciate the respect you treat it with, really looking at each shot and the sequence of events, at how carefully Bresson crafted every little thing.

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