Au hasard Balthazar (1966)

Robert Bresson’s distinctive pared down style elicits extraordinary pathos from this devastating tale of an abused donkey passing from owner to owner.

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Alternative titles

  • Min vän Balthazar Alternative German
  • Balthazar Alternative French


“Imbued with a dry, ironic sense of humour, the film is perhaps the director’s most perfectly realised, and certainly his most moving.”
Geoff Andrew, Time Out Film Guide, 2011

Animal protagonists are traditionally the preserve of sentimental stories for children, but while Robert Bresson’s tragic masterpiece about the travails of a donkey has the simple force of a fable, it presents a brutally pessimistic vision. Punished, maltreated, used, loved, Balthazar is put to work by one keeper after another, bearing silent witness to the folly and petty cruelties of his human masters.

Bresson was a Catholic filmmaker, and his story has been interpreted as a Christian allegory by some critics. The director’s austerely concentrated shots, restricted to details of scenes in order to elucidate the whole, and his controlled use of sound to imply off-screen activity, make for a uniquely dense, richly textured film. Jean-Luc Godard was to suggest that Balthazar contained “the world in an hour and a half”.

There are echoes of Balthazar in Bresson’s next film, Mouchette (1967), another rural drama that charts the hopeless decline of an impoverished girl.

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