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Anne Wiazemsky, Walter Green, Jean-Claude Guilbert, Pierre Klossowski

Robert Bresson's acclaimed Au Hasard, Balthazar presents an unfettered view of human cruelty, suffering and injustice, filtered through the eyes of a donkey over the course of his long life. The burro... read more read more... at the film's center begins life peacefully and happily, as the unnamed play-object of some innocent children in bucolic France, but his circumstances change dramatically when he becomes the property of a young woman named Marie - who christens him Balthazar. As she grows up and encounters tragedy and heartbreak, so does Balthazar; he passes from owner to owner, who treat him in a variety of ways, from compassionately to cruelly. The donkey, of course, lacks the capacity to comprehend the motivations of each individual but accepts whatever treatment (and role) is handed him, nobly and admirably. Bresson ultimately uses the story as a heart-rending allegorical commentary on human spiritual transcendence. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi

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87% liked it

6,614 ratings


100% liked it

36 critics

Unrated, 1 hr. 35 min.

Directed by: Robert Bresson

Release Date: May 25, 1966

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DVD Release Date: June 14, 2005

Stats: 445 reviews

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Flixster Reviews (445)

  • June 10, 2012
    Godard once said that Au Hasard Bathazar, Bresson's fascinating allegorical study of spiritual transcendence, is "the world in an hour and a half." I think that's a fitting description. Perhaps only Bresson can take a tragic story about a donkey and within it find the story of Ch... read morerist, but all be damned if he doesn't pull it off to miraculous effect. This film can be interrupted many different ways, but for me, Balthazar is Bresson's inspiring reassurance of the existence of God by the lack of even the slightest miracle or good fortune. What is not seen, the saving grace, is made more real and believable in its absence. The story, that of a donkey's life, is, on the surface, absurd; however, what Bresson can bring to it through the patient austerity of his camera work, the martyr like surrender of his characters (including the donkey Balthazar), is as transcendent and enlightening as a private epiphany. What is amazing is that he is able to project so much depth into an audience so unsuspecting. Like Ozu, he never judges his characters, he just presents them to his audience.

    I feel compelled to comment on the ending. A powerful final sequence, it achieves an eerie grace, consistent with its almost unique tone - allusively Biblical and allegorical, yet resistant to specific meanings and interpretations. The plot is a narrative of human cruelty and escalating despair, but always with enough mystery in the motivation to ward off easy condemnations; and perhaps even to indicate divine guidance. Throughout, Anne Wiazemsky seizes on the donkey as a symbol of transcendence (her mother even calls it a saint in the end); it's formally christened at the beginning and undergoes something approaching a formal funeral, all of which gives its life the contours of a spiritual journey of discovery. The narrative encompasses both revelations (the interlude in the fair; new tortures like the mean old man who starves and beats him) and retrenchment; both life's austerity, its roots in servitude, and its enormous potential dignity. Never was a donkey filmed so evocatively - but as always with Bresson, the simplicity is thrilling too - there's no false artistry here; no dubious anthropomorphism. To be honest, I'm genuinely impressed that he got so much out of what appears to be so little. If you can withstand Bresson's detached style and elliptical narrative techniques, then you'll be rewarded with a powerful and soul-stirring cinematic experience.
  • January 18, 2010
    like de sicas "the bicylce thieves", bressons character study is more about the human condition than about the plot itself. too much polish would have distracted us from the simplicity of the story, but realism provides it with a profound texture that i fear most common movie fa... read morens would miss entirely. who knew that a 90 minute movie about a donkey would have so much to say about humans?
  • December 28, 2009
    To paraphrase Bresson, Au Hasard Balthazar presents a progression of life. From tender childhood to laborious adulthood to a "time of talent & genius" to mysticism and, finally, to the inevitable demise that awaits us all. The approach is artistic and abstract with few e... read morempathetic characters. I appreciate this film but, because of it's dark tone, I can't say that I enjoyed it.
  • December 20, 2009
    it's an oddly appropriate christmas film but i wouldn't recommend it to anyone who's not already a fan of bresson. it's hard to see animals treated badly and, like mouchette, it's horribly depressing. still a beautifully made film that makes it's point
  • September 30, 2009
    Jean-Luc Godard said Au Hasard Balthazar was "the world in an hour and a half" and he was right. Through watching the life of a donkey we witness all the good and the bad things that make us human. Love, Cruelty, regret, despair and hope. I know the film is about saintliness and ... read moremany people find it spiritual but the realism for me is enough for me to be uplifted and heartbroken by this film every time i watch it, which i make sure is quite regularly!
  • January 29, 2009
    I gave this 4 stars based on my own interpretation of the movie because it seems that everyone has a different one & I'm not sure about what the movie is trying to say, I really liked its portrayal of life & its realistic depressing tone but religious allegory? spiritual experien... read morece? No thanks
  • fb1619601747
    March 1, 2012
    A masterpiece for so many reasons. This complex film is about so much more than Balthazar the donkey, it is about the human experience, about life itself. Balthazar is not a cartoon animal, he is not person with four legs, he is a real donkey. The audience is not meant to know hi... read mores thoughts or feelings. The things that happen to him are beyond his control or understanding - he accepts the things that happen to him because he must. The only difference between us and poor Balthazar is that we comprehend what is happening to us, but we do not necessarily control our course. A great French film.
  • fb1142797643
    April 23, 2011
    This was my second Robert Bresson film, and I sense that his style may be too gentle and pious to ever call him one of my pet directors. Still, "Au Hasard Balthazar" has a poetic eloquence that can't be denied.

    Balthazar is a donkey who begins life as a cuddly foal, frolicking w... read moreith children in the farmhouse straw. But he soon becomes harnessed as a mundane work animal, quietly enduring a procession of brutish owners and harsh duties. Yet he always retains a certain serene acceptance in his eyes -- an expression remarkably implied via editing alone. A scene where he exchanges "empathetic" looks with caged circus animals is especially poignant.

    One of those initial children, Marie, is his most loving caretaker through the years, and she experiences a parallel fall from innocence and surrender to degradation. There are also suggestions that the nobly suffering Balthazar is a Christ figure, but overemphasizing this symbolism may be a mistake.

    The film's main flaw is that its episodic structure means the characterizations are somewhat thin. In particular, a vicious youth named Gérard torments both Marie and Balthazar, but never makes his motivations understood. The nefarious Arnold is almost as inscrutable -- yes, he is a drunk, but does this fully explain his erratic abusiveness? Meanwhile, first-time actress Anna Wiazemsky (soon to become Mrs. Jean-Luc Godard) struggles to bring morose Marie to life, and spends much of the film woodenly standing like someone huddled at a graveside. Strangely, we identify more with the donkey than any of his human companions.

    Unnecessary insertions of a Mercedes Benz and a transistor radio (playing contemporary French pop) serve to break the spell of what otherwise could have been a timeless story.
  • fb804722839
    March 5, 2013
    An absolutely heart-rending allegory about cruelty and weakness, Au Hasard Balthazar is incredibly powerful and infinitely beautiful in spite of the many ugly events that transpire onscreen. It follows the life of a donkey named Balthazar who is abused and tormented by all but on... read moree of his owners, and yet never fights back. He accepts his treatment simply because he doesn't understand it, and is therefore a symbol of strength and saintliness, which is further evidenced by his name, which is that of a saint. The one owner that truly cares for him is Marie who, like Balthazar, is mistreated and disrespected, in her case by her cruel boyfriend. However, although she has the awareness to understand that she is being mistreated, she still loves her boyfriend and is submissive towards him. Marie rejects her kind and thoughtful childhood love for her brash and abusive boyfriend, making her a weaker individual than Balthazar is. Simply put, Au Hasard Balthazar is a masterpiece of emotion and one of the most moving films ever made.
  • April 3, 2012
    Without a doubt the best film of all time. I know I haven't seen much films but this one just surpasses all of them. It's pure genius. The acting is dull but there is a reason for that. So the viewer can interpret the actors for themselves. It's one of those types of films that d... read moreon't give away everything. You as the viewer have to do some thinking for yourself. If you don't want to do some thinking then go watch something else. But the truth is you don't need to do some thinking. You could just watch the film then read an analyses online when it's over. That's what I did. The story of this film is of a donkey that goes from owner to owner. The film is literally your whole life in one hour and thirty minutes. Everything in life is expressed threw this film. The hard part is picking up what those morals and dismorals are. Everything else from the direction to the writing is superb. The pacing was well thought out and made for people with large attention spans. Great film to satisfy my large attention span. I could sit still for hours. The production values of Art House films shine threw this piece of art, even thought they have low budgets. Another thing I enjoyed was reading the dialogue. For some strange reason reading a movie sounds much more intelligent. For those educated and prestigious minds out there I would recommend Au Hasard Balthazar. You won't be disappointed.

Critic Reviews

Anthony Lane
March 5, 2013
Anthony Lane, New Yorker

The film could have sunk beneath this symbolic burden, yet it is lightened by the speed and precision of Bresson's art; he could derive more from one pair of hands than most directors can from two hou... Full Review

Dave Kehr
April 27, 2009
Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

Perhaps the greatest and most revolutionary of Bresson's films, Balthazar is a difficult but transcendently rewarding experience, never to be missed. Full Review

Andrew Sarris
November 15, 2007
Andrew Sarris, New York Observer

No film I have ever seen has come so close to convulsing my entire being as has Au Hasard Balthazar. Full Review

Geoff Andrew
June 24, 2006
Geoff Andrew, Time Out

The film is perhaps the director's most perfectly realised, and certainly his most moving. Full Review

Roger Greenspun
May 9, 2005
Roger Greenspun, New York Times

This is neither an easy film, nor, in the show biz sense, an entertaining one. It makes large demands upon its audience, and in return confers exceptional rewards. Full Review

Ty Burr
April 9, 2004
Ty Burr, Boston Globe

Quietly devastating, nearly perfect allegory. Full Review

Roger Ebert
March 19, 2004
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Bresson is one of the saints of the cinema, and Au Hasard Balthazar is his most heartbreaking prayer. Full Review

Michael Wilmington
March 18, 2004
Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

It is a devastating picture, scored to a Schubert piano sonata and done with a purity and austerity that transfixes us. Full Review

Manohla Dargis
December 11, 2003
Manohla Dargis, Los Angeles Times

Bresson is one of the few directors for whom cinema was both an aesthetic and spiritual pursuit, a search that was reflected in films for which the words 'sublime,' 'transcendent' and 'masterpiece' ca... Full Review

J. Hoberman
October 14, 2003
J. Hoberman, Village Voice

The supreme masterpiece by one of the greatest of 20th-century filmmakers. Full Review

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