Au Hasard Balthazar

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Au Hasard Balthazar
French poster
Directed byRobert Bresson
Produced byMag Bodard
Written byRobert Bresson
StarringAnne Wiazemsky
Music byJean Wiener
CinematographyGhislain Cloquet
Edited byRaymond Lamy
Distributed byCinema Ventures
Release date
  • 25 May 1966 (1966-05-25)
Running time
95 minutes
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 drama film directed by Robert Bresson. Believed to be inspired by a passage from Fyodor Dostoyevsky's 1868-69 novel The Idiot, the film follows a donkey as he is given to various owners, most of whom treat him callously.

Noted for Bresson's ascetic directorial style and regarded as a work of profound emotional effect, it is frequently listed as one of the greatest films of all time.


In the French countryside near the Pyrenees, a baby donkey is adopted by young children - Jacques and his sisters, who live on a farm. They baptize the donkey (and christen it Balthazar) along with Marie, Jacques' childhood sweetheart, whose father is the teacher at the small school next-door. When one of Jacques' sisters dies, his family vacates the farm, and Marie's family take it over in a loose arrangement. The donkey is given away to local farmhands who work it very hard. Years pass until Balthazar is involved in an accident and runs off, finding its way back to Marie, who is now a teenager. But her father gets involved in legal wrangles over the farm and the donkey is given away to a local bakery for delivery work.

Gerard, leader of a young criminal gang, is the delivery boy at the bakery, and so takes charge of the donkey, treating it cruelly. Marie, driving a 2CV one day, sees the donkey at the roadside and stops to greet it. Gerard, who'd been sleeping nearby, gets into her car. They have sex, and then she drives home. Marie later enters into an abusive relationship with him, leaving her parents. Gerard is summoned to the local police station and questioned about a murder, along with Arnold, an alcoholic who is also a suspect. Neither is arrested. Balthazar becomes ill, and Arnold takes the donkey off Gerard's hands.

Balthazar recovers and Arnold uses the donkey and another to guide tourists around the Pyrenees. When the season ends, Balthazar escapes and joins a circus. But when the donkey sees Arnold in the audience it goes berserk, and Arnold retrieves it. Arnold's uncle dies and he inherits a fortune. He throws a wild party at a bar, and then is put on Balthazar's back to ride home. However, he is so drunk he falls off, hits his head on the ground and dies. The police send Balthazar to market. A local miller buys the donkey, using it for pumping water and milling. One rainy night, Marie, soaking wet, knocks on the miller's door asking for shelter - she has run away from Gerard. The miller says he'll be her friend and help her to 'escape' - but next morning sees her parents and offers them the donkey, the inference being that Marie will follow. Marie goes back to her parents. Jacques visits, wanting to marry her and also saying his father does not want the money the court ordered Marie's father to pay him. But Marie is not sure she wants to marry Jacques. She says she wants to 'have it out' with Gerard and goes to visit a barn where they used to meet. Gerard is there with his gang, and they strip her, beat her, then lock her in.

Marie's father and Jacques find her and break a window to get in. They take her home, pulled in a cart by Balthazar. Later Jacques wants to see Marie, but her mother comes downstairs and says 'she's gone and will never come back'. Marie's father dies shortly after, when visited by a priest. While Marie's mother is grieving, Gerard turns up with his gang and asks if he can borrow Balthazar. Ostensibly it's for a procession, but they use the donkey to carry contraband for smuggling over the border.

At night, when Gerard and accomplice are supposed to be meeting their contact, they are instead shot at and they flee. Balthazar runs off and hides in bushes. In the morning, we see Balthazar has a gunshot wound. A shepherd and flock comes. The sheep gather around Balthazar, their bells jangling, as he lays down and dies.


  • Anne Wiazemsky[2] as Marie
  • Walter Green as Jacques
  • François Lafarge as Gérard
  • Philippe Asselin as Marie's father
  • Nathalie Joyaut as Marie's mother
  • Jean-Claude Guilbert as Arnold
  • Pierre Klossowski as the grain dealer
  • Jean-Joel Barbier as the priest
  • François Sullerot as the baker
  • Marie-Claire Fremont as the baker's wife
  • Jacques Sorbets as the gendarme
  • Jean Rémignard as the attorney


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[3] 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 said that "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]


When Au Hasard Balthazar first played in New York at the 1966 Film Festival, "it received mostly unfavorable notices".[8] Reviews in Europe, however, were glowing.[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."[10] 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]

The theatrical release in the United States came four years later. In 1970, Roger Greenspun of The New York Times lauded the film's final scene as "surely one of the most affecting passages in the history of film."[8] Andrew Sarris, one of cinema's most influential critics,[11] 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."[12][13] The New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, however, wrote that although some consider the work a masterpiece, "others may find it painstakingly tedious and offensively holy".[14] Ingmar Bergman also 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."[15]

The film's religious imagery, spiritual allegories and naturalistic, minimalist aesthetic style have since been widely praised by film reviewers.[16] In 2005, James Quandt referred to it as a "brief, elliptical tale about the life and death of a donkey" that has "exquisite renderings of pain and abasement" and "compendiums of cruelty" that tell a powerful spiritual message.[10] In 2003, J. Hoberman stated, "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."[17] Manohla Dargis views Au Hasard Balthazar as "one of the greatest films in history", writing that it "stirs the heart and soul as much as the mind."[18] Roger Ebert argued, "The genius of Bresson's approach is that he never gives us a single moment that could be described as one of Balthazar's 'reaction shots.' Other movie animals may roll their eyes or stomp their hooves, but Balthazar simply walks or waits, regarding everything with the clarity of a donkey who knows it is a beast of burden, and that its life consists of either bearing or not bearing [...] This is the cinema of empathy."[19]

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky similarly commented, "Bresson never attempts to humanize Balthazar. [...] What Balthazar experiences of human nature is both pure and limited: the embrace of a lonely young woman, the unprovoked attack of an angry young man, and the work of the farms whose owners worry over money. He is only a donkey, and therefore something much more."[20] Ebert also credits Bresson's ascetic approach to actors for much of the work's emotional power, writing, "The actors portray lives without informing us how to feel about them; forced to decide for ourselves how to feel, forced to empathize, we often have stronger feelings than if the actors were feeling them for us."[19]


The film premièred 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.[21]

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.[22] It was also 21st in the directors' poll, receiving 18 votes from filmmakers including Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Béla Tarr.[23] It was also the first-place choice of Michael Haneke in the 2002 poll.[24]

Home media[edit]

In 2008, the film was released to the Criterion Collection as a region 1 DVD with English subtitles.[25] In 2013 a region 2 DVD was released by Artificial Eye, again with English subtitles.[26]


Au Hasard Balthazar is the inspiration for 1977 Tamil language movie Agraharathil Kazhutai directed by one of the most prolific Indian directors John Abraham. This movie was critically acclaimed upon its release and in 2013, it was listed in IBN Live's 100 Greatest Indian movies of all time. In 1978, Agraharathil Kazhutai won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil at the 25th National Film Awards.


  1. ^ "Au Hasard Balthazar (Re-issue) (2003) - Box Office Mojo". Retrieved 18 January 2015.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Dugdale, John (April 4, 2014). "Dostoevsky's many screen readings". The Guardian. Retrieved March 27, 2017.
  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 on IMDb
  8. ^ a b Greenspun, Roger (February 20, 1970). "The Screen: 'Au Hasard, Balthazar':Bresson Feature Opens at the New Yorker". The New York Times. Retrieved March 27, 2017.
  9. ^ Miller, Frank. "Au Hasard Balthazar". Turner Classic Movies, Inc. Retrieved March 27, 2017.
  10. ^ a b Quandt, James (June 13, 2005). "Au hasard Balthazar : Robert Bresson". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2015-05-03.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Sarris' entire February 19, 1970 review is reprinted in Sarris, Andrew (2010). "Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)". In Lim, Dennis (ed.). The Village Voice Film Guide: 50 Years of Movies from Classics to Cult Hits. John Wiley & Sons. p. 24. ISBN 9781118040799.
  14. ^ "Pauline Kael's Canon Fodder".
  15. ^ "On Robert Bresson and Filmed Animals - Fiction International".
  16. ^ "Au Hasard Balthazar". 25 May 1966. Retrieved 18 January 2015.
  17. ^ Hoberman, J. (October 14, 2003). "The Lord's Brayer". The Village Voice.
  18. ^ Dargis, Manohla (June 10, 2005). "'Au Hasard Balthazar'". The New York Times. Retrieved March 27, 2017.
  19. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (March 19, 2004). "Au Hasard Balthazar Movie Review & Film Summary (1966)". Retrieved March 27, 2017.
  20. ^ Vishnevetsky, Ignatiy (November 22, 2016). "50 years later, Au Hasard Balthazar remains an unconventional masterpiece". The A.V. Club. Onion, Inc. Retrieved March 27, 2017.
  21. ^ "Robert Bresson : Awards". IMDb. 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."
  22. ^ Christie, Ian (September 2012). "The 50 Greatest Films of All Time". Sight & Sound. British Film Institute (BFI).
  23. ^ "Votes for Au hasard Balthazar (1966)". British Film Institute. Retrieved March 27, 2017.
  24. ^ "How the directors and critics voted: Michael Haneke". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on September 20, 2017. Retrieved May 17, 2017.
  25. ^ Au Hasard Balthazar (DVD (region 1)). Criterion Collection. 2008. ISBN 9781604650853. OCLC 317559378.
  26. ^ Au Hasard Balthazar (DVD (region 2)). Artificial Eye. 2013. OCLC 881605028.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]