Au Hasard Balthazar
French poster
Directed byRobert Bresson
Written byRobert Bresson
Produced byMag Bodard
StarringAnne Wiazemsky
CinematographyGhislain Cloquet
Edited byRaymond Lamy
Music byJean Wiener
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 tragedy 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's 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. Marie's father gets involved in legal wrangles over the farm with Jacques’s father, and the donkey is given away to a local bakery for delivery work.

Gérard, leader of a young criminal gang, is the delivery boy at the bakery. He is jealous of Balthazar because Marie loves him, and 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. Gérard, who had been sleeping nearby, gets into her car and refuses to leave when demanded. It is implied that Gérard sexually assaults her after she gives up on attempting to flee, and afterwards she drives home. Marie enters into an abusive relationship with the violent Gérard, leaving her parents. Gérard 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. Gérard and his gang assault Arnold, calling him a murderer and a stool-pigeon. Balthazar becomes ill and is nearly euthanized, but Arnold interrupts and takes the donkey off their 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, at which Marie and her mother talk and she is asked to come home, which Marie refuses to do. Gérard puts Arnold 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. An avaricious local miller buys the donkey, using (and abusing) 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 Gérard. The miller says he'll be her companion and help her to escape, as she confided in him that she wished to "run away" – but the next morning sees her parents and offers them the donkey, the implication being that Marie will follow. Marie goes back to her parents. Jacques visits, wanting to marry her, and when Marie tells him about the abuse she has suffered he does not change his mind. Jacques also says that his father does not want the money the court ordered Marie's father to pay him. Marie is conflicted and is not sure if she is angry with Jacques or if she wants to be with him. She says she wants to "have it out" with Gérard and goes to visit a barn where they used to meet. Gérard 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, Gérard turns up with his gang and asks if they can borrow Balthazar. Marie's mother refuses, as Balthazar is to carry the ashes of Marie's father in his funeral procession. In the dark of night Gérard abducts Balthazar to carry contraband over the Spanish border.

When Gérard and his accomplice are supposed to meet their contact, they are instead shot at by customs guards and they flee, leaving Balthazar to his fate. In the morning, we see Balthazar has a gunshot wound. A shepherd and his flock come. The sheep gather around Balthazar, their bells jangling. He lies down and dies.



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. Bresson later confirmed that Marie was inspired by a character in Bernanos' novel, La Joie, and that Balthazar was meant to be based on the priest's death at the end of the novel. Moreover, Bresson uses ideas and influences from Jansenism on the exploration of humanity, in which he compares the film's overall premise as following the life of Saint Ignatius.[3] 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 had sex with 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 Cinéma 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 said, "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 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]

As of December 2022, on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rare 100% approval rating based on 44 reviews, with an average rating of 9.2/10. The critics consensus reads, "Au Hasard Balthazar uses one animal's lifelong journey to trace a soberly compelling – and ultimately heartbreaking – outline of the human experience."[21] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a "Metacritic Must-See" designation alongside a score of 98 out of 100, based on 20 critics.[22]

Awards and legacy

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.[23]

Au Hasard Balthazar is the inspiration for 1977 Tamil-language film Agraharathil Kazhutai directed by Indian director John Abraham. The film was critically acclaimed upon its release and in 2013 and 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.

Other films inspired by Au Hasard Balthazar include Todd Solondz's Wiener-Dog (2016) and Jerzy Skolimowski's EO (2022).[24][25]

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.[26] It was also 21st in the directors' poll, receiving 18 votes from filmmakers including Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Béla Tarr.[27] It was also the first-place choice of Michael Haneke in the 2002 poll.[28] The German filmmaker Werner Herzog praised the film and called it "incredible".[29] The American filmmaker Wes Anderson listed the film as one of his favorite films in the Criterion Collection library.[30] The American filmmaker Richard Linklater listed the film in his top 10 film list from the Criterion Collection.[31][32] In 2018 the film ranked 52nd on the BBC's list of the 100 greatest foreign-language films, as voted on by 209 film critics from 43 countries.[33]

Home media

In 2008, the film was released to the Criterion Collection as a region 1 DVD with English subtitles.[34] In 2013 a region 2 DVD was released by Artificial Eye, again with English subtitles.[35]


  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. ^ "Cahiers du Cinéma in English" (PDF). Cahiers du Cinéma. Cahiers du Cinéma. 8 February 1967. p. 26-27.
  4. ^ a b Wakeman, John (1987). World Film Directors. Vol. 1. The H. W. Wilson Company. p. 59. ISBN 0-8242-0757-2. OCLC 778946186.
  5. ^ Westley, Anne (12 October 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 at IMDb
  8. ^ a b Greenspun, Roger (20 February 1970). "The Screen: 'Au Hasard, Balthazar':Bresson Feature Opens at the New Yorker". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 6 October 2017. Retrieved 27 September 2021.
  9. ^ Miller, Frank. "Au Hasard Balthazar". Turner Classic Movies, Inc. Archived from the original on 28 March 2017. Retrieved 27 September 2021.
  10. ^ a b Quandt, James (13 June 2005). "Au hasard Balthazar : Robert Bresson". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 3 May 2015.
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger (20 June 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 (25 January 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". The New Yorker. 17 October 2011.
  15. ^ "On Robert Bresson and Filmed Animals".
  16. ^ "Au Hasard Balthazar". 25 May 1966. Retrieved 18 January 2015.
  17. ^ Hoberman, J. (14 October 2003). "The Lord's Brayer". The Village Voice.
  18. ^ Dargis, Manohla (10 June 2005). "Au Hasard Balthazar". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 March 2017.
  19. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (19 March 2004). "Au Hasard Balthazar Movie Review & Film Summary (1966)". Retrieved 27 March 2017.
  20. ^ Vishnevetsky, Ignatiy (22 November 2016). "50 years later, Au Hasard Balthazar remains an unconventional masterpiece". The A.V. Club. Onion, Inc. Retrieved 27 March 2017.
  21. ^ "Balthazar". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 14 December 2022.
  22. ^ "Au hasard Balthazar Reviews". Metacritic. Fandom, Inc. Retrieved 14 December 2022.
  23. ^ "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."
  24. ^ Sapienza, Ethan (14 July 2016). "Todd Solondz On The Return Of Dawn Wiener And Why He Centered His New Movie Around A Dog". Nylon. Retrieved 24 May 2022.
  25. ^ Macnab, Geoffrey (18 May 2022). "Jerzy Skolimowski on two-year shoot for Cannes Competition title 'EO'". Screen Daily. Retrieved 24 May 2022.
  26. ^ Christie, Ian (September 2012). "The 50 Greatest Films of All Time". Sight & Sound. British Film Institute (BFI). Archived from the original on 2 August 2012.
  27. ^ "Votes for Au hasard Balthazar (1966)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 27 October 2016. Retrieved 27 March 2017.
  28. ^ "How the directors and critics voted: Michael Haneke". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 20 September 2017. Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  29. ^ Literary Hub (10 August 2016). "Werner Herzog on the Books Every Filmmaker Should Read". Literary Hub. Retrieved 23 September 2021. Herzog: "...Robert Bresson's Pickpocket. This is phenomenal; it just make me ache. So intense and so beautiful… It makes you ache, it's so beautiful. And we also watched his Au hasard Balthazar about the donkey Balthazar. It's an incredible film."
  30. ^ Zack Sharf (24 October 2019). "Wes Anderson's Favorite Movies: 30 Films the Auteur Wants You to See". IndieWire. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved 30 June 2021. "We watched 'Au Hasard Balthazar' last night and loved it," Anderson told The Criterion Collection when naming his favorite films in the library. "You hate to see that poor donkey die. He takes a beating and presses on, and your heart goes out to him." Directed by Robert Bresson, the 1966 French drama follows a donkey and his various owners over the years. Anderson says he is also a fan of Bresson's "terrific" companion film "Mouchette," released in 1967.
  31. ^ "Richard Linklater Presents Robert Bresson". A-BitterSweet-Life. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  32. ^ "Richard Linklater's Top 10". The Criterion Collection. 21 November 2008. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  33. ^ "The 100 Greatest Foreign Language Films". British Broadcasting Corporation. 29 October 2018. Retrieved 10 January 2021.
  34. ^ Au Hasard Balthazar (DVD (region 1)). Criterion Collection. 2008. ISBN 9781604650853. OCLC 317559378.
  35. ^ Au Hasard Balthazar (DVD (region 2)). Artificial Eye. 2013. OCLC 881605028.

Further reading