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Au Hasard Balthazar Reviews

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Super Reviewer

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 Christ, 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.

Super Reviewer

January 26, 2007
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 fans would miss entirely. who knew that a 90 minute movie about a donkey would have so much to say about humans?

Super Reviewer

March 27, 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 empathetic characters. I appreciate this film but, because of it's dark tone, I can't say that I enjoyed it.

Super Reviewer

May 15, 2008
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
Anthony L

Super Reviewer

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 many 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!

Super Reviewer

January 28, 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 experience? No thanks
Dillon L

Super Reviewer

February 11, 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 his 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.
Eric B

Super Reviewer

April 22, 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 with 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.
Joey S

Super Reviewer

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 one 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.
Eduardo T

Super Reviewer

March 26, 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 don'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.
Ivan D

Super Reviewer

March 30, 2013
Considered by cinephiles as one of the greatest films of all time, "Au Hasard Balthazar" is Robert Bresson's lyrical meditation on spirituality, martyrdom and human cruelty, and after so many years, it still stands the test of time as one of the most truly reflective Christian films without overtly highlighting the fact that it is indeed one. Bresson, known for his minimalist approach to filmmaking, is never too easy to resort to cheap emotions and utter sentimentalism. Instead of examining the inhumanity of man through the eyes of the human characters, he has filtered everything through the primitive perspective of a work-burdened donkey named Balthazar, a symbolic manifestation of sainthood, and is also the silent absorber of all of the characters' worldly sins. The donkey, indeed with all his hardships and misfortunes as he gets passed on from one owner to another, is on the receiving end of a film that is really human nature itself, in all its ugly glory, in a nutshell. As what Jean-Luc Godard has once said about "Au Hasard Balthazar": "...this film is really the world in an hour and a half". Well, I do not know if he has just said that to impress Anne Wiazemsky (the film's lead, which Godard would marry a year later), but nonetheless, his comment on the film really is as truthful as you can get.

The film, for all the critical accolades that it has received, should not be looked upon as a fine piece of narrative filmmaking. On the contrary, "Au Hasard Balthazar" is unusually clunky in its exposition, characterization and camera work. Sometimes, it even suffers from unwarranted scene jumps that are quite frustrating to sit through, especially when the film itself really calls for a more 'observant' approach to cinematography. While the characters, although it is given that majority of them are representative of man's cruelty to things and creations that they consider to be comparably inferior to them, are quite caricature-like. A specific example is the Gerard character (played by François Lafarge), a typical delinquent who seems to go through every waking moments of his life with a penchant to hurt those around him, including the girl Marie (Anne Wiazemsky), Balthazar's original owner, and the only person he seems to be interested in.

Also, the whole 'legal' angle that Marie's farmer of a father was deeply involved in wasn't given enough emphasis, which, along the way, has resulted in some uncalled-for unevenness in the plot and some blurry character motivations.

But in all fairness, all those shortcomings do not really distract from the uncannily spiritual experience that "Au Hasard Balthazar" has to offer. After all, the film is an emotional event and not a narrative one, and is more a visual reflection on the quiet beauty of Christian faith rather than being a story about it. For starters, I do think that I will remember this film not because of its story but because of its inspired, poetic and almost fable-like visual realization of faith and kindness within a subtle theological context.

As a Christian, when I think of the words 'passion' and 'martyrdom', an image of a sweltering and exhausted donkey would have been the last thing to materialize in my mind. But after watching "Au Hasard Balthazar", as much as it is quite awkward to analogize a donkey's everyday plight to the soul-saving hardships that Jesus Christ himself has went through, I thought, well, why not? After all, the world, in all its evils, can indeed crucify a hapless soul in ways more than one, and who can better endure such an infliction by people 'who do not know what they're doing' than a pure, wordless donkey who neither does. As what the Blessed Mother Teresa has said, "God is the friend of silence".

In my honest opinion, I do think that no other film in existence has tackled Christian faith in such a non-preaching light, and Bresson, for whatever deficiencies he seems to have had in the film in terms of storytelling, has created a cinematic piece of such innocent glow. Indeed, "Au Hasard Balthazar" is a film that has successfully tackled the essence of Christian faith without even looking like a religious film. And without an overtly Christian aspect to spice it up, the film has managed to overcome religious boundaries to tell a simplistic tale of purity and saintliness in a manner that is powerful yet very humbling. It may not turn you into a man of religion overnight, but it will certainly convince you to reflect on your way of life and on your beliefs, and to ask yourself the question of "Have I been good enough?" Such is the power of "Au Hasard Balthazar".

Super Reviewer

February 19, 2009
The film is amazingly slow and flat. There is no sense of emotion in order to let the audience relate to the characters, except the donkey. But if we consider the Bressonian style, the film is much more appreciated. However, i do not recommend this film to everyone.

Super Reviewer

January 31, 2009
I think I'm too stupid to understand the statements that this supposed masterpiece is trying to make. Maybe I was distracted by the notion this movie implies that French people are depressed all the time. Anyway...this is an artist's movie with many layers, revolving around donkey that is passed from owner to owner. Take that for what it's worth. If you hate this movie and think it's boring and pretentious, I can see why. If you love this movie and think that it's an ingenious depictiion of morality and the human condition...then you're smarter and deeper than me. More power to ya.
May 14, 2010
Many directors and professional critics name this film as among, if not the best, of the 20th Century.

Director Bresson's camera unobtrusively observes the passing of the life of the donkey Balthazar, as well as the life of the woman (Wiazemsky) who simultaneously loves and neglects it.

As people come to know their own pets through observation, so the viewer comes to know the mind and ethic of Balthazar as he parades past human failings such as greed, pride, cruelty and lust. Balthazar suffers much, but lives a life deserving of divine grace. A Criterion restoration.

This observation of a donkey's life is far more fascinating that it sounds. Godard famously stated (seen in the extras) that the film 'gives us the world in 90 minutes.' It does so with sparse dialogue; rather, volumes are spoken through camera's eye. Excellent composition abounds; Bresson's penchant for developing character without the use of facial shots is routinely observed.

There's a harbor of religious references: Balthazar's namesake is one of the Magi, he is baptized (to remove original sin), Wiazemsky crowns him with flowers then abandons him to the abuse of others, nails are driven through his hooves in his shoeing. Hence, interpretations of Balthazar as symbolic saint or Christ-figure.

Bresson's religion (Jansenism) favors the notions of predestination, original sin, and the natural depravity of man. The title, "Balthazar By Chance," underlines that much happens apparently due to chance; the viewer may consider whether chance or predestination works these lives.

And the depravity of man is on full, yet sometimes subtle, display. The final scene, which should not be spoiled, is often noted as among the most memorable in cinema.

RECOMMENDATION: Some viewers will label this film art-house churn, but most, I expect, will be gently captivated. Highest recommendation.
November 16, 2009
Robert Bresson's Au hasard Balthazar is the story of a girl and a donkey named Balthazar. The film follows the two of them over many years from the donkey's birth until its death. The girl is the original owner of the donkey but it changes owners many times over the course of its life. Some owners are better than others but they all have flaws. The girls life seems to parallel the donkeys life.

While not immensely popular, this film is generally well-received. French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard said "this film is really the world in an hour and a half." Personally, I wasn't all that impressed with the film. While it certainly had its fair share of artistic merit, it just wasn't very interesting. I didn't particularly care about the donkey and I certainly didn't care about the girl.

June 10, 2009
Finely directed and acted. Great black-and-white shots but any Biblical allegories the film relies on are baseless and emotionally vapid.
July 27, 2008
a great film about a donkey but manages to contain more about humanity and life and death than a great deal of films ive seen.
February 4, 2008
Wow, if there's a definition for a pretension and boring as hell film to watch for film class this is it. I don't give a damn about this donkey or the soul-less characters around him. I literally struggled to keep my sanity watching this.

Super Reviewer

April 8, 2007
i found this for the most part to be very unpleasant...something about a donkey as a metaphor didnt click with me...i could only feel disdain for this creature and could careless about the peoples lives he wondered into but only disgust at the abuse they subject on this beast of burden...this is the most disappointing film ive seen from Bresson and has that same see saw pacing as Pickpocket that just got on my nerves and it has everything to do with the editing choices...still the film had some strong moments but mostly just blah ones
January 15, 2007
i see a lot of movies. its about a donkey. i dunno what kinds of ppl would really love this movie. and at the end their mean to the donkey newy!
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