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Thursday, 7 July 2016

A Young Cinephile's Diary - Shaun Heenan discovers Bresson's BALTHAZAR and likes FINDING DORY

I only watched one of Fandor’s Criterion films this week, but it was a big one. I always have one film sitting in the back of my mind which I arbitrarily consider the most important film I haven’t yet seen. For a while there it was Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion (1937), then I watched that, and it became Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960), which led me to watch seven more Godard films in quick succession. Now, I’ve once again crossed off the film I had considered the most egregious gap in my cinema experience.

Au Hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson, France/Sweden, 1966) is a sombre tale told with an almost shocking lack of emotion from the characters. Bresson’s film follows the life of an unremarkable donkey named Balthazar, owned in his youth by a joyful young girl called Marie, before being passed along to various other less pleasant members of the local community. By the time Balthazar returns to Marie’s care, life has taken a toll on her. Her smile is gone, as are her childhood friends and her hope for a better future. Marie doesn’t seem sad – that would be too easy to convey. Through Bresson’s lens she seems utterly defeated. She stares without seeing, her focus stolen by life’s hardship.

From here Marie allows herself to be further mistreated by a local boy, who also frequently beats Balthazar. There’s a special power to Bresson’s use of the donkey as an observer. It stands silently as a witness to mankind’s cruelty. It can’t judge, but it allows the actions to be seen. I’m less familiar with Bresson than I would like, though I was very fond of his similarly-grim Mouchette (1967). The patience and control shown in his films will keep me coming back until I’ve seen everything he made.

For reference, I think my biggest blind-spot is now either Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante (1934) or Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game (1939).

From a powerfully-muted classic to an emotionally-overwhelming new release: I headed to the cinema this week to see Pixar’s Finding Dory (Andrew Stanton, USA, 2016), the sequel to Stanton’s 2003 film Finding Nemo. Here is a rare sequel that surpasses the beloved original. While the plot, featuring a fish traveling across the ocean in search of family, echoes that of Nemo, Finding Dory focuses sharply on elements which were glossed over in the first film. Specifically, this is a movie about somebody learning to live with a disability. Dory suffers from short-term memory loss, and while Finding Nemo mostly used this as a running joke, here it is shown to be utterly crippling, and the cause of much trauma in Dory’s life.
Perhaps that seems like a strange way to examine a cartoon designed for children to enjoy, but I found myself completely surprised by the strength of this film. It’s absolutely the best new-release movie I’ve seen since Oscar season. Finding Dory is a film both children and adults can completely fall in love with, offering deep emotional resonance and gleeful adventure. Even with Pixar’s strong track record, I can’t believe how much I liked this movie.


From a powerfully-muted classic to an emotionally-overwhelming new release: I headed to the cinema this week to see Pixar’s Finding Dory (Andrew Stanton, USA, 2016), the sequel to Stanton’s 2003 film Finding Nemo. Here is a rare sequel that surpasses the beloved original. While the plot, featuring a fish traveling across the ocean in search of family, echoes that of Nemo, Finding Dory focuses sharply on elements which were glossed over in the first film. Specifically, this is a movie about somebody learning to live with a disability. Dory suffers from short-term memory loss, and while Finding Nemo mostly used this as a running joke, here it is shown to be utterly crippling, and the cause of much trauma in Dory’s life.


Perhaps that seems like a strange way to examine a cartoon designed for children to enjoy, but I found myself completely surprised by the strength of this film. It’s absolutely the best new-release movie I’ve seen since Oscar season. Finding Dory is a film both children and adults can completely fall in love with, offering deep emotional resonance and gleeful adventure. Even with Pixar’s strong track record, I can’t believe how much I liked this movie.

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