1966: Au Hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson)
It's been a very long time since I've seen this film, and it's one I can't remember with great specificity. In fact, in my mind it is somewhat bundled up with Bresson's very next film, Mouchette.
Everything I already said about Bresson in my 1959 post on Pickpocket applies here. However, the major shift is in Bresson leaving the city and exploring the countryside. As much as I love Pickpocket, there's a poetic urge in Bresson that doesn't seem fully released except in more rural settings. In Balthazar, Bresson's poetic abilities are firing at full potential. I remember it having Tarkovsky-esque imagery -- gorgeous, haunting visuals with a deep, heavy, almost overwhelming presence.
The thing though that I remember most about Balthazar (and once again it might have come from Mouchette -- please someone confirm!) is a scene of a car racing down a country road. We hear the car skid, Bresson cuts to black, and then we hear the rest of the accident without seeing it. It was the moment that introduced me to the power of sound in filmmaking and convinced me that in the right hands sound could be just as important as image.
Of all my favorites, Balthazar is one of the ones I most need to see again, just to refresh my memory. I'm confident saying this though -- it is Bresson at his most austere, human, and poetic.
Other contenders for 1966: I still have quite a few titles to see. These include: Jacques Rivette's The Nun, Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain, Jean-Luc Godard's Two or Three Things I Know About Her, Roberto Rossellini's The Rise of Louis XIV, Fred Zinnemann's A Man for All Seasons, Jean-Pierre Melville's Le deuxieme souffle, Alain Resnais' La guerre est finie, Jean Eustache's Le pere Noel a les yeux bleus, Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (somehow it's true), Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers, and Vera Chytilova's Daisies. I really need to revisit Ingmar Bergman's Persona, Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup, and Jean-Luc Godard's Masculin, feminin. It's been too long since I've seen any of them to know where they'd place on this list. From this year, I really like John Ford's 7 Women and Arthur Penn's The Chase. I love Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev. And my closest runner-up is Howard Hawks' El Dorado.
5/26/11 I watched Alain Resnais' La guerre est finie. Resnais' cinema, like Bresson's, is ultra-restrained, cerebral, and mannered. But his non-linear interests make it even more distanced for me. However, he really excels in creating unconventional little moments of suspense, and his scene transition edits are as consistently strong and punctuating as any I have ever seen.
5/28/11 I watched Jean-Luc Godard's Two or Three Things I Know About Her. One of Godard's most thoughtful, certainly, and certain famous moments like the close-up on the coffee cup definitely have tremendous power. But I miss Godard outside of the city, I miss Karina, and I miss the emotional boost Godard usually provides with one of his great scores.
5/30/11 I watched Roberto Rossellini's The Rise of Louis XIV. The first of Rossellini's historical dramas that I've seen, and it takes awhile to get used to this later style and period of the great director. But it snakes its way around, accumulating historical import, and by the end, it finds its emotional highpoint. Another transcendent and powerful work by one of cinema's most unusual and rigorous stylists.
5/31/11 I watched Vera Chytilova's Daisies. Almost non-narrative, a patchwork of stylistic flair that's really not my thing. But Chytilova has a strong eye, and there's an irreverence that's appealing.
6/2/11 I watched Jean-Pierre Melville's Le deuxieme souffle. Doesn't rate up there for me with his final three films. It seems to be lacking a little rigor formally, and this Ventura character did not emotionally involve me like in Army of Shadows or the two late Delon roles. Just seems a little more minor than some of his other work.
6/2/11 I watched Fred Zinneman's A Man for All Seasons. Paul Scofield gives a tremendous performance as Sir Thomas More. The material feels a bit like Oscar fodder, but for what it is, it's well done.
6/3/11 I watched Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers. Its lack of shape is its greatest strength and flaw. It's what gives the film its immediacy and gives the action sequences their added depth of feeling. But it also meanders quite often, losing some of its potential impact. Seems a major influence on Carlos. Both films have great scores, but Carlos does better in at least one area, by having one character we can really follow.
6/22/11 I watched Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Leone creates quite the atmospheric journey. Of course, Morricone does a great brunt of the work, too. Leone's so playful, and at times it's what gives the film its special world and energy. But ultimately the playfulness keeps things all a little too surface and shallow.
11/3/13 I watched Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain. It's clear that Tarantino cribbed some of Waltz's character for Inglorious from this, and the early murder sequence is by far the moment of greatest interest. Otherwise, the whole thing feels a bit devoid of energy and logic. Of all the latter Hitch I've seen, this one seems the most flawed.
11/24/13 I watched Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow Up. Antonioni gives sixties ennui and youthful alienation his masterful cinematic talents in this gloriously modern film. Antonioni particularly excels in set design, the studio space at the center of the film is endless evocative, camera placement and movement, his camera hovers and sees in ways that continually feel new and uninhibited, and sound, the lack of music and reliance on ambient sound for most of the film add immeasurable effect to the entire experience. A unique, landmark film wearing its age well and another example of Antonioni's special and great talent.
12/11/16 I rewatched Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Deuxieme Souffle. It is definitely one of these blueprint films that presented (and perhaps even introduced) so much of what would become conventions for the ambitious crime films of the next thirty years. It takes its time, coming in a little over 150 minutes. It relies heavily on ambient sounds, featuring very little in the way of music, and where there is music it is that moody minimal jazz that we will find again in Friedkin's French Connection, Klute and Night Moves, to name but a few. We see the two-gun shootout that would become trademarks of Woo and Tarantino. We have the zoom and heavy reliance on location shooting that almost sum up the aesthetic approach of Friedkin in the French Connection. And we have onscreen time stamping that show up all over Scorsese's work and in seemingly every copycat crime filmmaker that would follow in his wake.
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