Actor Brady Corbet on Francophiles, Old-School Filmmaking, and Au Hasard Balthazar

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If you want to see the power of cinema at its best, watch a film by Robert Bresson. The young actor/director Brady Corbet knows this, and he will take advantage of his pedestal at this year's Miami International Film Festival to express it by presenting what he thinks is one of the French director's masterpieces: Au Hasard Balthazar.

Corbet spoke to New Times about his desire to present the film in 35mm. He says he expects the festival to have a pristine print supplied by Rialto Pictures for the one-night-only event at the Tower Theater in Little Havana this Friday night.

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The 24-year-old actor, who once directed a short film on 35mm that screened at the 2008 Miami International Film Festival (Protect You + Me), might seem young to fully appreciate the 1966 film, but he was indoctrinated into cinephilia as a child thanks to his mother. He also has a knack for having appeared in some well-regarded films by some modern master directors, including Lars von Trier (Melancholia) and Michael Haneke (Funny Games).

New Times: Pardon the question, but what qualifies you to introduce Au Hasard Balthazar?
Brady Corbet: Actually, it's a fair question. I would say that I've been a pretty hard-core cinephile all my life, and I've devoted much of my life to the medium, so I suppose I have as much as a qualification as someone could, at my age.

Why do you think this film is important?
Well, for quite a few reasons. It happens to be from one of maybe ten filmmakers who really shaped the way I sort of saw moviemaking and its potential, its subtlety, and breadth of vision. It also just happens to be a film that I saw at a very young age that really made a big impact on me.

How old were you when you saw it?
Probably when I was 11 or 12. I grew up watching a lot of international films mostly because of my mother, because, first of all, she's a cinephile, but she's also a real Francophile... She lived there for many years. She went to college there, her ex-husband is from there, she speaks French fluently. I don't, unfortunately. I spent a lot of time there, and I worked there before, but my French is just OK. It's not great.

Well, this is a very visual film, so what's great is that it transcends the language.
Oh, yeah, certainly, certainly. I suppose most of Bresson's films do, and to tell you the truth, there were a lot of films about animals that I fell in love with when I was young. I liked animals growing up. So I was also a huge fan of Claire Denis's second movie, which is about cock fighting, called S'en Fout la Mort, which is a very, very beautiful movie. It was made in the early '90s... Sometimes I was attracted to watching certain movies because of a sort of element as base as that [it had animals].

Do you have an interpretation of the film that you'd like to share?
It's a strange thing because I feel like the film is notoriously transcendental, beyond style. It's actually a kind of transcendental experience and kind of a holy experience to watch it. But, unfortunately, I can't think of anything that people like Paul Schrader and all sorts of other people haven't said before in the past, other than it's an exquisitely crafted film and a deeply moving one.

Is there a scene you particularly like?
The last scene sort of gets me every time. [For those of you who care about such things: SPOILER ALERT!] The sort of death scene at the end is pretty remarkable. But, of course there is the amazing sequence when the kid sort of sets the animal's tail on fire. There's all sorts of beautiful little moments in the film.

What does Bresson do cinematically that you find is impressive in moving his themes forward?
I think there's a simplicity and a directness. The films are very, very poetic, but they're also very practical, and they're very focused on gesture and the immediate. I think that when it comes to poetry of any kind, written poetry or otherwise, I tend to like work that's pretty anti-sentimental. I find that all of his films are deeply humanist efforts, and yet he doesn't treat humanity or an animal, in the case of Au Hasard Balthasar, with any sort of preciousness, and that's something I find very off-putting in movies in general, when they are sort of patting mankind in general on the back too much. There's a sort of balance in the simplicity in human experience. It's a hard thing to talk about the movie without getting into some pretty pretentious theoretical rhetoric, but I suppose that's the easiest way to speak summarily of it.

I agree with you completely, and the sort of anthropomorphization that appears in some movies seems to undermine the presence of an animal onscreen to begin with.
Absolutely, and going back to the question of qualification, I think that as a young person being asked to present something that they like, there are plenty of movies that have been made in the last year or so that I like too. However, considering that cinema as we've known it for a century is dying out, I would imagine that the majority of the films screening at the Miami International Film Festival this year, while all great pieces of work, are probably shot digitally. I think the last three or four movies I worked on were shot digitally, and we couldn't have made them without the technology. So it's not something that I shun at all, the digital movement, but I think it's very important right now to remind people of the medium's origins constantly because it seems less and less important to people all the time.

Au Hasard Balthasar screens Friday at 7:15 p.m. at the Tower Theater. Visit miamifilmfestival.com.

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