Au Hasard Balthazar

Critics Consensus

Au Hasard Balthazar uses one animal's lifelong journey to trace a soberly compelling -- and ultimately heartbreaking -- outline of the human experience.



Total Count: 42


Audience Score

User Ratings: 6,956
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Movie Info

Robert Bresson's acclaimed Au Hasard, Balthazar presents an unfettered view of human cruelty, suffering and injustice, filtered through the eyes of a donkey over the course of his long life. The burro at the film's center begins life peacefully and happily, as the unnamed play-object of some innocent children in bucolic France, but his circumstances change dramatically when he becomes the property of a young woman named Marie - who christens him Balthazar. As she grows up and encounters tragedy and heartbreak, so does Balthazar; he passes from owner to owner, who treat him in a variety of ways, from compassionately to cruelly. The donkey, of course, lacks the capacity to comprehend the motivations of each individual but accepts whatever treatment (and role) is handed him, nobly and admirably. Bresson ultimately uses the story as a heart-rending allegorical commentary on human spiritual transcendence. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi


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Critic Reviews for Au Hasard Balthazar

All Critics (42) | Top Critics (12) | Fresh (42)

  • The movie plays like a concerto.

    Oct 11, 2019 | Full Review…
  • If one were looking for a perfectly realized film, Au Hasard Balthazar would be as likely a candidate as any.

    Nov 22, 2016 | Rating: A | Full Review…
  • The film could have sunk beneath this symbolic burden, yet it is lightened by the speed and precision of Bresson's art; he could derive more from one pair of hands than most directors can from two hours of blood and guts.

    Mar 5, 2013 | Full Review…
  • Perhaps the greatest and most revolutionary of Bresson's films, Balthazar is a difficult but transcendently rewarding experience, never to be missed.

    Apr 27, 2009 | Full Review…
  • No film I have ever seen has come so close to convulsing my entire being as has Au Hasard Balthazar.

    Nov 15, 2007 | Full Review…

    Andrew Sarris

    Top Critic
  • The film is perhaps the director's most perfectly realised, and certainly his most moving.

    Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…

    Geoff Andrew

    Time Out
    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Au Hasard Balthazar

  • Mar 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".
    Ivan D Super Reviewer
  • Mar 05, 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.
    Joey S Super Reviewer
  • Jun 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.
    Jonathan H Super Reviewer
  • Mar 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.
    Eduardo T Super Reviewer

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