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 date
  • 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. It was succinctly characterized by J. Hoberman in 2003: "Robert Bresson's heart-breaking and magnificent Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) — the story of a donkey's life and death in rural France — is the supreme masterpiece by one of the greatest of 20th-century filmmakers."[2]


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. 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.[4]

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."[5]

Ghislain Cloquet was the cinematographer for Au Hasard Balthazar; it was the first of three films Cloquet shot for Bresson. Bresson's long collaboration with Léonce-Henri Burel had ended with Bresson's previous film, The Trial of Joan of Arc. As described by Daryl Chin, Bresson and Cloquet "would evolve a cinematic style of subtle, sun-dappled radiance; without extending the photography into extremes of chiaroscuro contrast, Cloquet would heighten the lighting so that even the greys would glisten."[6]

The film's editor was Raymond Lamy, a veteran of French cinema whose first editing credit was in 1931. From 1956 through 1971, Lamy edited all of Bresson's films excepting The Trial of Joan of Arc (1962).[7]


The film's religious imagery, spiritual allegories and naturalistic, minimalist aesthetic style have been widely praised by film reviewers.[8] James Quandt wrote in 2005 that 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.[9]

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."[9] Godard married Anne Wiazemsky, who played Marie in the film, in 1967. Film critic Tom Milne called it "perhaps [Bresson's] greatest film to date, certainly his most complex."[4] One of cinema's most influential critics, the late Andrew Sarris,[10] wrote in his 1970 review: “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.”[11][12]

On the other hand, when Balthazar first played in New York at the 1966 Film Festival, "it received mostly unfavorable notices".[13] And Ingmar Bergman said of the movie, "this Balthazar, I didn’t understand a word of it, it was so completely boring... A donkey, to me, is completely uninteresting, but a human being is always interesting."[14] According to The New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, Balthazar is "[c]onsidered a masterpiece by some, but others may find it painstakingly tedious and offensively holy."[15]

It has been argued that "Gerard is obviously symbolic of Nazi Germany. And Marie was Anne Frank. Hiding away. The sheep were obviously symbolic of the U.S. arriving too late, per usual, in a von Trierish way."[16]


The film premiered at the 1966 Venice Film Festival where it won the OCIC (International Catholic Organization for Cinema) Award, the San Giorgio Prize, and the New Cinema Award.[17]

Au Hasard Balthazar was ranked sixteenth on the 2012 critics' poll of "the greatest films of all time" conducted by the film magazine Sight & Sound.[18]

Home media[edit]

In 2008 the film was released by Criterion Collections as a region 1 DVD with English subtitles.[19] In 2013 a region 2 DVD was released by Artificial Eye, again with English subtitles.[20]


  1. ^ "Au Hasard Balthazar (Re-issue) (2003) - Box Office Mojo". Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  2. ^ Hoberman, J. (October 14, 2003). "The Lord's Brayer". The Village Voice. 
  3. ^ Cunneen, Joseph (2003). "The Donkey as Witness: Au hasard Balthasar". Robert Bresson: A Spiritual Style in Film. New York: Continuum. p. 108. ISBN 9780826416056. OCLC 50919950. Against Bresson's wishes, Ms. Wiazemsky embarked on an acting career after Balthasar, making films with directors like Godard [whom she married] and Pasolini. 
  4. ^ a b Wakeman, John (1987). World Film Directors. 1. The H. W. Wilson Company. p. 59. ISBN 0-8242-0757-2. OCLC 778946186. 
  5. ^ Westley, Anne (October 12, 2007). "Anne Wiazemsky's relationship with Robert Bresson". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  6. ^ Chin, Daryl (2003). "The Strange Luck of Au Hasard, Balthazar". Masters of Cinema. 
  7. ^ Raymond Lamy at the Internet Movie Database
  8. ^ "Au Hasard Balthazar". 25 May 1966. Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  9. ^ a b Quandt, James (June 13, 2005). "Au hasard Balthazar : Robert Bresson". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2015-05-03. 
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 20, 2012). "Andrew Sarris, 1928-2012: IN MEMORIAM". Andrew Sarris, who loved movies, is dead at 83. He was the most influential American film critic of his time, and one of the jolliest. 
  11. ^ As cited in Sarris, Andrew (January 25, 1999). "He Wants a Drink, But He Wants Her More". Observer.  Sarris dated his review as being from 1966; a Village Voice reprint volume indicates a date of 1970.
  12. ^ Sarris' entire February 19, 1970 review is reprinted in Sarris, Andrew (2010). "Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)". In Lim, Dennis. The Village Voice Film Guide: 50 Years of Movies from Classics to Cult Hits. John Wiley & Sons. p. 24. ISBN 9781118040799. 
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ Lippe, Adam (31 January 2009). "Au Hasard Balthazar". A Regrettable Momment of Sincerity. Retrieved 5 July 2016. 
  17. ^ "Robert Bresson : Awards". Retrieved 18 January 2015.  The San Giorgio Prize was given from 1956 through 1967 for "artistic works that had been considered especially important for the progress of civilization."
  18. ^ Christie, Ian (September 2012). "The 50 Greatest Films of All Time". Sight & Sound. British Film Institute (BFI). 
  19. ^ Au Hasard Balthazar (DVD (region 1)). Criterion Collection. 2008. ISBN 9781604650853. OCLC 317559378. 
  20. ^ Au Hasard Balthazar (DVD (region 2)). Artificial Eye. 2013. OCLC 881605028. 

Further reading[edit]

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