Au hasard Balthazar
1966, 95 min., B&W, 35mm projection source
A profound masterpiece from one of the most revered filmmakers in the history of cinema, director Robert Bresson’s “Au hasard Balthazar” follows the donkey Balthazar as he is passed from owner to owner, some kind and some cruel but all with motivations beyond his understanding. Balthazar — whose life parallels that of his first keeper, Marie (Anne Wiazemsky) — is truly a beast of burden, suffering the sins of man. But despite his powerlessness, he accepts his fate nobly. Through Bresson’s unconventional approach to composition, sound, and narrative, this seemingly simple story becomes a moving parable of purity and transcendence.
Legendary critic Andrew Sarris writes in the Village Voice: “‘Au hasard Balthazar’ plucks out the roots of existence and presents us with a very morbidly beautiful flower of cinematic art. Bresson’s vision of life and his cinematic style may seem too bleak, too restrictive, too pessimistic for some, perhaps for many. And yet, all in all, no film I have ever seen has come so close to convulsing my entire being as has ‘Au hasard Balthazar.’ I’m not quite sure what kind of movie it is, and indeed it may be more pleasingly vulgar than I suggest, but it stands by itself on one of the loftiest pinnacles of artistically realized emotional experiences.” In the Chicago Reader, Dave Kehr provides this equally ecstatic summation: “‘Everyone who sees this film will be absolutely astonished,’ Jean-Luc Godard once said, ‘because this film is really the world in an hour and a half.’ Robert Bresson's 1966 masterpiece defies any conventional analysis, telling a story of sin and redemption by following Balthazar, a donkey, as he passes through the hands of a number of masters, including a peasant girl, a satanic delinquent, and a saintly fool. Perhaps the greatest and most revolutionary of Bresson’s films, ‘Balthazar’ is a difficult but transcendently rewarding experience, never to be missed.”