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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 March 2010
The movie follows the life of a donkey - Balthazar - and the people he comes in contact with. Bresson makes it a classic - some saying Balthazar incorporates the stoicism and taking on the sins (and punishment) of others as a metaphor for Christ. Whether that is so or not will remain to be judged by each viewer but the beauty of this overall relatively tragic story is that neither Balthazar, nor Marie - one of the owners and the female protagonist - see themselves as victims. They endure.

The story gone through in a relatively short movie is amazing and the cinematography, music / sound effects are simply astounding, as is the symbolism of the movie. In spite of the message of predestination, drudgery of life (both for the donkey and the humans coming into contact with it), difficulty of adolescence etc. Bresson still manages to sneak in the odd humorous moment (the painters renting out Balthazar describing action painting).

This is not a happy movie and does not make for easy watching - as mentioned by the other reviewers Bresson did not shot movies for commercial success. But the movie is strangely fulfilling nevertheless, and one can return to it many times - something that will make you discover new elements and get a deeper appreciation of it every time you see it. In that sense it is a true masterpiece of cinema and something definitely worthwhile having on DVD.
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on 24 March 2017
Robert Bresson’s famous, simple story of Balthazar the donkey is also a complex allegory. Like Balthazar, we find ourselves standing in a world we haven’t made. Why this should be, why we are here, is unknown.

In childhood we’re the centre of everything. We have no objective perspective outside ourselves, so all this — all that I survey — is my kingdom: the world came into existence for me. We are limited in what we’re able to grasp. Such is the freedom and incarceration of childhood.

As time passes we grow and learn, acquiring some ideas that help us make partial sense of things. Some tell us we have free will, conscious choice, so we’re nominally architects of our destinies. But others say this is illusory, that chaos in the form of randomness and luck determines our fates. If so, we are more passive, less free, than we think.

Balthazar’s passivity is conditioned by his extreme lack of freedom. Not only is free will absent; the consciousness to know that it is missing is absent too. Thus for him acceptance is all, rendering resistance pointless. The days and nights come and go. He lives, breathes, eats, sleeps. Home is his stable, hay his food, the wider world outside unexplored. If he is taken anywhere, it’s with a rope or chain strung round his neck and pulled. He does what others desire him to do — ploughs fields, hauls goods, pulls wagons, carries riders. It’s how the world was made, the only one he knows and experiences. Survival depends on his resignation and obedience, his acceptance of the inevitable. He is powerless.

His social life is conditioned too. He makes contact mainly with people, his masters, not with other animals, though he encounters dogs and sheep, and for a while he spends time in a local circus with other circus animals (a bear, tiger, elephant and monkey). But life is largely one of solitude for him, even when surrounded by others. Although he is present, he barely participates in events, a silent witness to them. If he does participate, it’s almost always because of the action of others.

When the story opens Balthazar is tiny, a baby donkey just a few months old. He is slightly springy on his new legs and actually trots and bounces a bit. Local children in the village adore him, especially Marie, a shy farm girl. She and her good friend Jacques play with Balthazar, adopt him as their own. It is Marie who christens him Balthazar (named after one of the Three Wise Men). She and Jacques baptise him in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, sprinkling holy water on his snout. Now he is truly a child of the Lord who will surely look after him. But God is otherwise engaged and will ultimately fail to protect him.

The children are kind and tender to Balthazar. They frolic and play with him, ride him too when he is old enough to support their weight. Marie kisses and rubs his snout tenderly. One warm spring day she also picks wildflowers and makes a garland for his head. Throughout all this he is accepting, though he can make no direct response to the tenderness Marie gives him.

Time passes. Balthazar grows and so do the children. Marie becomes an attractive young girl of 16. Her pale white skin is soft, her hair and legs long. Some boys in the village have their eyes on her. Jacques has moved away to another village, but Marie will always be his sweetheart because when they were young they pledged themselves to one another. Jacques carved their names in a heart on a wooden bench to announce the truth of their love to the world. He is devoted, so when the time comes, when they are old enough, he will return for her and they will marry.

But in his absence Marie is plagued by forces she can’t protect herself from. Gérard, perhaps 18, is a local teddy-boy biker in a band of teenagers on loud mopeds. He sees Marie as a silly farm girl but wants to impress his mates with his ability to pull birds. Marie is afraid of him at first and dislikes him, but gradually he worms his way into her affections. She knows he’s no good and her parents say so too. She knows she should resist him, but eventually she cannot, subdued by his biker image which to her naïve mind seems exciting. He says he loves her but we know he’s lying, even if she doesn’t. He’s selfish, dishonest and cruel, but even when Marie discovers this she remains under his spell. In way she is like her donkey, his Balthazar, passive and pliable, ready to be what he wants her to be.

And we know what Gérard wants. Marie’s pretty face, soft skin and long legs interest him. He will get what he desires at her expense and she will be made to suffer for it.

Marie’s father is the local schoolmaster in the village. He has also taken over the care of a farm belonging to the father of Jacques, the father having decided to leave the village with his son after the man’s wife died. Jacques’ father trusts Marie’s father completely. But as it happens Marie’s father will make problems for himself with the estate. What problems? He suffers from a stubborn sense of pride. Although he manages the farm honestly, he will not show records of it to any public officials who wish to see them, feeling his honour will be impugned by doing so. This prompts nosy villagers to spread rumours about his integrity, privately saying he is stealing from estate in order to enrich himself. This disrespect will lead him to despair.

Meanwhile he has consented to lend Balthazar to the local baker. Although she might have resisted such a thing, Marie is too passive to prevent it. Or it could be she consented because the son of the baker is Gérard, the rebel delinquent who professes to love her but doesn’t. The baker puts Gérard to work delivering loaves of baguettes. His moped is too small for the job, so he uses Balthazar for his deliveries, two large burlap sacks flung over the donkey’s back, both of them filled with long loaves of French bread.

Gérard is a bully and bullies love nothing more than to pick on the weak and unprotected, on those who who can’t fight back. Balthazar fits the bill perfectly and is subjected to Gérard’s perverse cruelty: whippings, beatings, kicks, even his tail lit on fire at one point. Gérard immaturely glories in his strength, which is no strength at all, just a prankster’s idea of causing pain in others.

Balthazar endures the maltreatment. He does what is expected of him, even if it is to absorb violent blows for reasons he cannot comprehend.

A town drunk named Arnold takes pity on Balthazar and briefly rescues him from Gérard, refusing to return him. But Arnold is rarely sober and can’t properly tend to Balthazar, so it’s he who gives him over to the circus, though Balthazar’s stay there is also brief.

Jacques returns to the village and tries to engage Marie in his affections again. But she is cool, distant, and disrespects him, calling him boring. She thinks marriage is stupid and she’s never seen a happy one yet, so she thinks theirs will end up just as bad. So even weak and passive Marie who is usually kind to others is cruel in the end to Jacques, a boy who sincerely cares for her. Jacques has no other option than to let her be and leave, which he does.

Gérard and his gang assault Marie one afternoon in a remote hay barn. Her father finds her there, naked and crying. She will not say what happened to her but her father guesses the worst. His pride and reputation are further damaged. Thus Marie decides to run away. Where she goes nobody knows, including us.

Gérard gets involved in smuggling. He and a mate use Balthazar to run contraband over the hills into nearby Spain, it seems. They are shot at one evening in the moonlight but manage to escape, running back to the village without Balthazar. A stray bullet catches the donkey in the hind leg. He bleeds and is weakened by the wound. He sleeps on the mountain during the night. The following morning he wanders down to a meadow where a shepherd is herding his sheep. Among the sheep he lies down for a rest. Maybe he thinks it will be temporary and brief, but it turns out otherwise, the bleeding uninterrupted and no one to care for him, not even the shepherd. The sheep look on in wonder at this different-looking being. Balthazar lays his head down in the grass, the sun shining brilliantly on it. He closes his eyes as the film ends.

As the main protagonist, Balthazar is obviously an existential being. His existence is curtailed as are the existences of everyone and everything. But his restrictions are acute. Never once do we know what he thinks, if he does. From what we can see he is just property, a convenient thing to be used. Which could raise the question, what else is a donkey? And to that question the obvious answer is: a natural being, not a piece of property. But not to these villagers, Marie and Jacques (and maybe Arnold, the village drunk) excepted. Property is all he is, a slave and beast of burden. The villagers are peasants, rough and insensitive. Cruelty is everywhere in nature, a part of life, of village life too. The strong dominate the weak, the aggressive push out the passive.

Marie leaves. So does Balthazar in a sense, dying in a meadow far from the village, all alone apart from the uncomprehending sheep round him who baah because they can.

Some have compared Balthazar to Christ in spirit, both misunderstood, maltreated, banished, and it’s true Christ was associated with both donkeys and sheep. He famously rode a donkey into Jerusalem, if the New Testament is to be believed, and he was often among sheep and lambs, using them to illustrate the famous parables he told. He was largely passive and accepting, rarely forcing his will on others. He was loved and cared for by some, but most treated him indifferently or cruelly. These comments could seem far-fetched, but Bresson himself never fully denied such assertions.

What can we say?

The fate of the passive may not turn out well. This is one possible reading. We can be accepting and probably should be, but only selectively. If we are too weak or trusting, the wrong persons may exploit us. If there is willpower or something like it, it is there to be used. If we can’t protect ourselves when we are old enough and strong enough to do so, who will?

Balthazar, the solitary existential, existed for all to use or abuse. No longer a child of nature or God, he became their instrument. He surrendered his essence and got little in return for doing so. The world is not evil but can be dangerous, so sometimes it pays to be active in our doubts and suspicions.
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on 7 June 2017
such a wonderful film
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Other reviewers have discussed the film so well that the prospect of adding something seems almost presumptuous; nevertheless I would add that the film appeals to me precisely because a certain sentimental enjoyment necessarily arises by virtue of the donkey's sweetness, his solidity being set against his helplessness. This mystery of appearances can then be added to all the other paradoxes Bresson is concerned with. One of the things I find is how much I forget the complicated plot after seeing it - except that the girl falls for a thug who is completely unworthy of her. In this sense each viewing is a kind of rediscovery as it comes back, but what I do retain is a sense of the purity of the animal as set against the compromises and skulduggery of the human world. The moment when it canters off into a field, thinking it has found freedom (alas for all too short a time, as it turns out) is joyous, and the final scene where it is in the field with all the sheep, played out against Schubert's sublime inspiration, is infinitely affecting. You are left feeling the dignity of Balthazar, his pathos, and with a sense of the terrible sadness of neglect.
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VINE VOICEon 5 March 2014
I reviewed the VHS version of this some years ago, and having acquired the recent DVD I have no reason to revise my enthusiasm. It is one of those films where, however often you see it, new depths reveal themselves. Bresson has brilliantly interwoven various sub-plots, including murder and financial skullduggery, which you barely notice first time round in this birth-to-death story of a donkey. All the characters seem to be victims of destiny, acted upon rather than acting, with the sole exception of the evil Gerard, who seems able to do what he wants. This pessimistic view of human nature, which becomes more evident in Bresson's later films, is observed throughout by Balthazar, clearly a Christ-figure who seems to understand everything while remaining silent. My one complaint is the lack of extras, unlike the Criterion edition which apparently includes a long French TV discussion of the film.
This film comes in the middle, and many would say at the zenith, of Bresson's career.
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While I fully respect, and to some extent understand, the five-star reviewers, I've come to the conclusion, having watched with a great deal of anticipation this hugely praised film ~ some have declared it the best film ever made ~ that some films, and some directors, are quite simply overrated.
I've read that this film ~ whose central character {though we don't actually see that much of him} is a mild-mannered, often abused, and occasionally loved donkey, who changes owners with bewildering frequency ~ is based on the seven deadly sins and even the Stations of the Cross. That's a lot for one donkey to bear, let alone one film. Knowing the above hardly helps, since the storyline, such as is is, is so prosaic at times, and often plain boring ~ there, I've said it: this film is often simply boring ~ that any symbolism gets lost amid pointless dialogue and seemingly arbitrary editing.
I have seen a few films by Bresson {including one other that had me yawning and longing for it to end: Lancelot du Lac} and he is on record as saying he didn't like 'actors', preferring to work with the untutored, for various reasons, some of which sound perfectly valid, but he also comes across as a director who didn't want any other vision or viewpoint interfering with his saintly, rather precious visions.
Balthasar the donkey is superb {I believe he took direction well, too} as is the chief female character, a budding actress called Anne Wiazemsky, who has a soulful face, and who went on not only to work with Godard {another disastrously overhyped director} but to marry him.
My three stars imply, rightly, that I quite enjoyed much of this deeply flawed film, but far too much of it is talky to little avail, or spends too much time with the humans and their random, rarely explained meetings and partings ~ at times I was completely lost in that respect ~ and too little time with the title character, who could have been given the chance to really be a character, not in any anthropomorphic sense, but simply given more time to establish a 'life'.
The final scene, in a sunlit field among baa-ing sheep, is justly famous, and is indeed modestly moving. But this hit-and-miss film really has been drastically overpraised by critics and fellow directors.
It doesn't help either that, if what I've read is true, Bresson actually made the donkey submit to all the abuses one sees in the film. If true, I hope he was later ashamed of himself. He certainly lived long enough to be ~ though making, like so many directors with inflated opinions of themselves, surprisingly few films.

Yea: 2 Neigh: 3
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on 26 August 2014
The main character in this harsh movie is an animal, a donkey (Balthazar), whose fate lies in the hands of his masters.
In a world full of naked violence, economical exploitation, cheating, sadism and rape, only one family treats Balthazar correctly. Its members will pay the price for it. The donkey is the only really innocent living being in this world; indeed, a saint.

Robert Bresson’s main obsession was not to shoot ‘theatre’ scenes. The element ‘actor’ in his movies was turned into a kind of set piece. All sorts of emotion had to be suppressed, because being ‘theatrical’. But, his view was too rigid. Slightly more emotion, more lively dialogues or more passionate gesticulation would have made his movies ‘warmer’, more human, more moving.
Notwithstanding this, his film is still an astonishing masterpiece. A must see for all movie buffs.
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on 30 July 2005
"Au Hasard, Balthazar" was made in 1966 and was followed in 1967 by "Mouchette", the only time Robert Bresson made films in successive years. His final black and white works, they are often linked critically as the peak of his cinematographic skill. Themes spill over from the earlier to the later film - Bresson seems to have felt the need to resolve issues of teenage alienation and the bleak future which can face adolescents.
Robert Bresson (1901-1999) began directing in 1934. His thirteen feature films, made between 1943-1983, achieved great critical acclaim, marked Bresson as a major influence on many European and American directors, yet never achieved box office success. Bresson made the films he wanted to make, striving at all times for visual impact; the majority of his films were in black and white - he demonstrates great visual control in this medium. And the visual element can be emphatic - his films are often sparse in their use of dialogue while Bresson makes exaggerated use of natural sound effects (wind, rain, footsteps, creaking boards).
Bresson used unknown or amateur actors - no big names, no easy familiarity with the faces on the screen. He wanted his audience to concentrate on the story and its emotions, even if his style might make these enigmatic, if not cryptic. Note the opening scenes of "Balthazar" - a dying child, a school teacher in an empty class, references which will have later import but which flash by inconsequentially.
Bresson began as a painter and often referred to his actors as 'models' - they were there to provide visual images. They were stripped of emotion - he didn't want them to portray emotion as a public show, but to exhibit something more transcendent. "Balthazar" is the extreme form of this depersonalisation - the star of the film is a donkey, significantly silent throughout most of the abuses he endures, yet whose voice intrudes into the opening credits to fracture the accompanying music.
Heavily influenced by a Catholic vision of predestination, Bresson shuns exploration of psychology. In many of his films the characters simply accept their fate - they know they are destined to suffer and battle against an illusion of free will. Again, Balthazar provides the ideal form, a poor, mistreated beast, exposed to the whims and abuses of human actors to the point where he is resurrected to endure even more torment.
Bresson's pessimism is evident, but he felt he saw the influence of god more clearly and potently in poverty and suffering. The struggle to resolve the conflict between freewill and destiny is, for Bresson, the essential route to spiritual fulfilment. Balthazar at one point escapes, flees back to the happier world he had known in his 'childhood', only to be once again pressed into the service of humans and into a fresh round of mistreatment and abuse.
"Au Hazard Balthazar" has obvious religious references - the donkey becomes a parody (or even parable) of Christ; the film rides on the donkey's back, is carried in procession by this creature. We can imagine birth in a stable, we have symbolism of bread and wine, Balthazar is crowned with flowers, baptised, resurrected, humiliated, yet transcends all with dignity - emphasised by raucous braying.
The theme is sin and suffering, the donkey acting as both witness and victim. The film follows Balthazar's life - a caricature epic, shot in short episodes, carrying the viewer along at rapid pace. You observe a densely packed narrative - this is a film you need to return to three or four times to absorb all the detail Bresson serves up.
Much of the storyline is enigmatic. Marie, the daughter of a schoolteacher, adopts the new born Balthazar. The farmer, owner of the donkey, loses his child, loses interest in his farm. Marie's father takes on the farm, applying rigorous scientific knowledge in its management. He is plunged into scandal - financial, sexual? The donkey has been sold into a life of toil but escapes and is rediscovered by Marie ... only to be tormented by her delinquent lover and returned to a life of abuse. On his travels he watches the degeneration and corruption of the people who touch his life. Hardly the commercial fare of a Hollywood epic, but an epic none the less.
"Au hasard" suggests danger, risk, but is best translated as 'chance', suggesting that Balthazar's life is random, beyond control ... certainly beyond his control. It's an allegory of human life. Donkeys are born to suffer. So are humans. Marie, in particular, is stripped of control over her life as her brief, idealised childhood descends into the abuse and humiliation of adolescence.
But none of the characters in the film have any control over their lives - they are all driven by forces beyond their ken, are all pawns in a larger game. Bresson casts sin and morality into a bleak light - how do we judge the sinner if the sinner is simply damned to sin? Is the sinner any less deserving of sympathy than the sinned against? The film does contain 'villains', but they too are propelled by an unknown hand and destiny.
An epic, a classic piece of cinematography, an enigmatic flow of narrative, "Au Hasard Balthazar" is beautifully transferred to disc in crisp, high contrast black and white with a largely naturalistic soundtrack. This is a well-produced, well-packaged offering. The DVD delivers an hour-long 1966 French TV programme on the film and a short interview with film scholar Donald Richie, and some printed notes further enhance your analysis of and understanding of the film. A movie worthy of great critical acclaim, but hardly commercial in its themes and style.
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on 17 June 2014
Robert Bresson's revered 1966 masterpiece Au hasard Balthazar is a film of quite extraordinary intellectual depth, piercing metaphysical perception and spiritual profundity. All 13 of this director's films are essential viewing, but this is the one you will want to return to the most to gain fresh insight as so much complexity lies buried under a surface of apparent simplicity. I have seen it many times and find new things on every re-acquaintance. Some people find Bresson's austerity hard to take, but here it is leavened with the use of soft romantic Schubert on the soundtrack (Piano Sonata No. 20), a beautifully warm (defiantly non-model-like) performance from Anne Wiazemsky and a donkey as the main character. The film is undoubtedly one of the greatest ever made and if I prefer A Man Escaped (1956) it is simply a subjective personal choice on my part. There's no question in my mind that Au hasard Balthazar is the greater achievement and critical consensus (though far from unanimous) would appear to agree.

The great beauty of the film lies in the simplicity of the story. Set in rural France, a donkey is born in a stable, has a brief idyllic early life before being put to work by the first of 7 owners. They use and abuse him in various ways before he finally dies in a meadow. On the most obvious level the film is about human cruelty and if you are an animal rights activist you might find this film tough to sit through. The donkey is kicked, poked, hit with a stick, burned, shot, over-burdened with heavy loads, exploited in a circus and used in crime. Furthermore it is witness to various unmentionable acts of cruelty perpetrated by man on fellow man. In true Bressonian style the camera stares at the donkey continually while a myriad of sub-plots happen around it (largely off-screen) with such elliptical subtlety that you definitely won't catch everything on a single viewing. If we watch and listen carefully we can catch a murder, a long-running land dispute, a love story, a smuggling yarn, a rags-to-riches parable, a miser's tale, a meditation on mother-son dysfunction, a dissection of bigoted parochial village life and a disturbing sex attack. In short Bresson encapsulates a whole rural way of life which he shows as being fundamentally evil by refracting it through the poor innocent donkey. Bresson went on to make an even more damning view of the French countryside in his next film Mouchette (1966), another masterpiece, but one that has to be one of the most depressing movies I have ever sat through. The afore-mentioned Schubert merging with the suffering of the poor beast, Au hasard Balthazar avoids that accusation and manages to be astonishingly poignant to the point where I defy anyone with a heart not to be moved to tears by the end.

In Au hazard Balthazar Bresson recognizes that while many films focus on man inflicting cruelty on man, nothing is more moving than seeing it inflicted on an innocent animal. Why can audiences watch bodies blown to bits and limbs hacked off in commercial cinema without turning so much as a hair, and yet feel such concern when an animal is simply prodded with a stick? Could it be that animals are somehow better (closer to God?) than man and one of Bresson's reasons for making this film is to convey his disgust with the nature of mankind? Certainly if we look at the films he went on to make after this we find a progressively stronger misanthropic edge to his work, especially evinced in The Devil Probably (1977) and L'argent (1983). The donkey finds grace by the end of Au hasard Balthazar as does the girl Mouchette in the following film. With his color films `grace' becomes much more elusive with Bresson apparently giving up on his fellow man altogether.

This theme of grace refers us to the Catholic predestinarian Jansenism that informs every single Bresson film. Time and again protagonists simply function in any given narrative to fulfill whatever has been predestined for them to fulfill. They have no free will of their own and are 'acted on' from on high. Usually the film charts a journey which becomes a metaphorical search for spiritual grace, for salvation. Conventional character psychology has no place in a Bresson work - it doesn't matter what happens between birth and death, the result will be the same - such is the nature of predestination. We are taken on a journey together with any given protagonist and are made to feel as they do as they approach salvation. In the case of our donkey, his journey through life via use and abuse is his fate and through his death in a beautiful meadow surrounded by sheep he finds his salvation away from his tormentors. The fact that he is a knowingly innocent victim of life's circumstances makes for a truly heart-breaking conclusion to the film.

Of course the donkey is a lot more than just a donkey. He is named `Balthazar', the name of one of the three Magi who visited baby Jesus in Bethlehem. One obvious reading of the film is to treat it as a Passion play with Balthazar taking on the attributes of Jesus Christ. He is born in a stable, is owned by 7 people which represent the 7 Stations of the Cross which he has to negotiate en-route to his Calvary. Golgotha is the final meadow where he dies for all of man's sins - his crucifixion made real amidst his followers (the sheep). On the journey, various aspects of religious practice are obliquely referred to and part of the fun is to spot them as they fly past in this short and rigorously intellectual film. Balthazar's most loving owner is named Marie (played by Wiazemsky), obviously referring to Jesus's mother and also to Mary Magdelene the whore. Marie's suffering mirrors that of Balthazar throughout the film especially when she takes on aspects of whoredom in a dance and when she sells herself to the grain merchant (Pierre Klossowski). Balthazar is baptized by kids at one point, the bells around his neck symbolizing church bells. Then he is draped with flowers and decorations as if preparing for Palm Sunday's grand entrance to Jerusalem. We see transubstantiation invoking the Eucharist when the evil village boy Gérard (François Lafarge) delivers bread and the drunken Arnold (Jean-Claude Guilbert) knocks back his red wine. Noah's Ark is recreated at the circus in an impressive montage bestiary sequence which Bresson gives us showing us the various caged animals who are all as doomed as Balthazar to the life of servitude.

As well as the 7 Stations of the Cross we have the 7 deadly sins - lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride which should be (but mostly aren't) balanced with the 7 Catholic virtues - chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness and humility. This dichotomy is reflected within the 7 owners who show all these qualities to varying degrees. If this was simple religious allegory each owner would represent one sin, but Bresson knows real life is more complicated than that - all sins and virtues exist together and feed off each other. Therefore each of the seven owners pointedly exhibit them all as one. There are several scenes where characters display opposite emotions in short succession - Arnold swears he will never drink again but then in the very next shot he is knocking back a bottle of wine. Gérard takes on the role of Satan in the film. He is the cause of much of the crime and discontent in the village. He pours oil on a road to cause a car crash only in the very next scene to take up his place in the organ loft of the church to sing like an angel with the choir. Watch carefully and we realize that what Bresson gives us in this film is the whole world in microcosm where the basic metaphysics of our existence on this planet are laid out for us to unravel. Jean-Luc Godard said it best when he said Au Hasard Balthazar is "the world in an hour and a half". It is an extraordinarily deep metaphysical journey, but is never pretentious in any way.

At various points I was reminded not only of Dostoyevsky's The Idiot (the donkey and Prince Myshkin share Christ-like similarities), but also of the acidic religious films of Luis Buñuel. The drunk Arnold belongs to the world of Viridiana's derelicts and his death (one look up, one look down, then falling off Balthazar to crack open his head) is classic Buñuelian sardonic humour. Then the grain merchant appears to have stepped straight out of Nazarín (1958) and in his scene with Marie the old man lays out the mantra of the perfect life as being one of self-help, greed and gluttony. The man makes advances on the poor girl who just wants shelter (she repeatedly removes his hand from her shoulder) leading eventually to her rejecting the money after his lecture on human dissolution is paraded as a positive. Note she gives herself to him in the end, probably taking the money as well. The casting of writer Pierre Klossowski here was significant - he was a famous expert on the Marquis de Sade and is one of the names listed in the glossary opening Pier Paolo Pasolini's monument to the excesses of Fascism, Saló, or 120 Days in Sodom (1975). In 1964 Klossowski had been responsible for the French publication of Sade's book and no doubt Bresson had in mind the depravity in mind and spirit of Sade when he asked the writer to play for him. Significantly, Buñuel also borrows from Sade in Nazarín. Equating the values of provincial country life in France with those of the Marquis de Sade was hugely controversial, but Bresson obviously thought he had a point.

I could go through the film shot-by-shot or character-by-character bringing out all the subtle themes and references, but that would spoil it for you. Acquainting yourself with Bresson's masterpiece is something the viewer must do on his own. As with the very greatest art, the more effort one puts in, the more one gets out in the end. Au Hasard Balthazar is one of those films that you could spend a lifetime getting to know, reliving the experience as one relives the Passions from the Bible. Once you penetrate beneath the surface simplicity I would say this film is far from an easy experience, but it is certainly a deeply rewarding one.

The only negative thing I have to say concerns the lack of extras on this Artificial Eye DVD. A scholarly commentary and a perceptive documentary are surely necessary for the presentation of such a marvelous film. The film positively cries out for help for it to be more readily understood, especially in today's world where few have little time for the austerity of the likes of Bresson. Even on a light gossipy level this film has interest and surely something could have been added to the disc. For example, one of the reasons Anne Wiazemsky's performance is so warm is that Bresson was in love with her during the shoot. His advances on her were rejected so she later said. Later of course Wiazemsky met and married Jean-Luc Godard, appearing in his Le Chinoise (1967) - something Bresson was reportedly angry about. Wiazemsky and Dominique Sanda (star of Une femme douce [1969]) were the only two Bresson `models' who went on to have successful acting careers. There are no complaints about the quality of the transfer. Visually it is excellent (aspect ratio 16:9 - 1.66:1) and the sound is ideally sharp as it needs to be to catch everything that goes on. Shame about the lack of extras, but this is a film which should be in every collection. Strongly recommended.
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on 4 September 2016
The donkey dies???!!! Noooooooo.
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