Au Hasard Balthazar

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Au Hasard Balthazar
French poster
Directed by Robert Bresson
Produced by Mag Bodard
Written by Robert Bresson
Starring Anne Wiazemsky
François Lafarge
Music by Jean Wiener
Cinematography Ghislain Cloquet
Edited by Raymond Lamy
Distributed by Cinema Ventures
Release dates
  • 25 May 1966 (1966-05-25)
Running time
95 minutes
Country France
Language French
Box office $45,406 (2003 re-release)[1]

Au hasard Balthazar (French pronunciation: ​[o a.zaʁ bal.ta.zaʁ]; meaning "Balthazar, At Random"), also known as Balthazar, is a 1966 French film directed by Robert Bresson, starring Anne Wiazemsky.


The film follows Marie (Wiazemsky), a shy farm girl, and her beloved donkey Balthazar over many years. As Marie grows up, the pair becomes separated, but the film traces both their fates as they live parallel lives, continually taking abuse of all forms from the people they encounter. The donkey has several owners, most of whom exploit him, often with more cruelty than kindness. He bears his suffering with nobility and wisdom, becoming a saint in the process. Balthazar and Marie often suffer at the hands of the same people. But in the end, Marie's fate remains unresolved, whereas the donkey's is clear.



After making several prison-themed films using his theory of "pure cinematography", Bresson stated that he wanted to move onto a different style of filmmaking. The story was inspired by Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Idiot and each episode in Balthazar's life represents one of the seven deadly sins. Bresson later stated that the film was "made up of many lines that intersect one another" and that Balthazar was meant to be a symbol of Christian faith. Bresson produced the film with help from the Swedish Film Institute.[3]

According to Wiazemsky's 2007 novel Jeune Fille, she and Bresson developed a close relationship during the shooting of the film, although it was not consummated. On location they stayed in adjoining rooms and Wiazemsky says "at first, he would content himself by holding my arm, or stroking my cheek. But then came the disagreeable moment when he would try to kiss me ... I would push him away and he wouldn't insist, but he looked so unhappy that I always felt guilty." Later Wiazemsky lost her virginity to a member of the film's crew, which she says gave her the courage to reject Bresson as a lover. Bresson was known to cast nonprofessional actors and use their inexperience to create a specific type of realism in his films. Wiazemsky states: "It was not his intention to teach me how to be an actress. Almost against the grain, I felt the emotion the role provoked in me, and later, in other films, I learned how to use that emotion."[4]


The film's religious imagery, spiritual allegories and naturalistic, minimalist aesthetic style have been unanimously praised by film reviewers.[5] According to James Quandt, this "brief, elliptical tale about the life and death of a donkey" has "exquisite renderings of pain and abasement" and "compendiums of cruelty" that tell a powerful spiritual message.[6]

The noted filmmaker and Cahiers du Cinema critic Jean-Luc Godard said, "Everyone who sees this film will be absolutely astonished [...] because this film is really the world in an hour and a half." Godard married Wiazemsky in 1967.

Film critic Tom Milne called it "perhaps [Bresson's] greatest film to date, certainly his most complex."[7]

One of cinema's most influential critics, the late Andrew Sarris, said: “No film I have ever seen has come so close to convulsing my entire being ... It stands by itself as one of the loftiest pinnacles of artistically realized emotional experience”[8]


The film premiered at the 1966 Venice Film Festival where it won the OCIC Award and the Jury Hommage.[9]

Although never officially included on the British Film Institute's 10 Best Film Poll, it did receive 10 votes from film critics in 2002, reaching the rank of 19.[10]


  1. ^ "Au Hasard Balthazar (Re-issue) (2003) - Box Office Mojo". Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  2. ^ Joseph Cunneen, "The Donkey as Witness: Au hasard Balthasar" Robert Bresson: A Spiritual Style in Film. New York: Continuum (2003): 108. "Against Bresson's wishes, Ms. Wiazemsky embarked on an acting career after Balthasar, making films with directors like Godard [whom she married] and Pasolini."
  3. ^ Wakeman, John. World Film Directors, Volume 1. The H. W. Wilson Company. 1987. p. 59. ISBN 0-8242-0757-2
  4. ^ Westley, Anne (October 12, 2007). "Anne Wiazemsky's relationship with Robert Bresson". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  5. ^ "Au Hasard Balthazar". 25 May 1966. Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  6. ^ "Au hasard Balthazar : Robert Bresson". Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  7. ^ Wakeman. p. 59.
  8. ^ [1][dead link]
  9. ^ "Robert Bresson : Awards". Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  10. ^ [2][dead link]

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