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”.
“Bresson’s minimalist masterpiece brings to life with unequalled power the story of an abused donkey whose depth of suffering illuminates the cruelty of the human world towards other species and humanity’s unexamined belief in its own superiority.” Barbara Creed
“The reverse of Disneyfication: a parable of animal sacrifice and the price of human foibles.” Barrett Hodsdon
“Robert Bresson drafted the rules of a new cinema and realised them in Au hasard Balthazar, his masterpiece. This seemingly aloof, cold film, inspired by a passage in Dostoevsky’s 1868 novel The Idiot, burns with a yearning for justice and beauty. Bresson’s disciplined portraiture of a donkey and the way of life in the French countryside is a lesson in seeing the world anew through the cinema and noticing the potential that endeavour contains.” Kaya Genc
“Few have changed the face of cinema like Bresson, proposing a wholly new understanding of cinematic time, performance, découpage and the fiction/nonfiction dichotomy. Au hasard Balthazar is the finest work to have ever shifted from the human to the non-human and back again.” Flavia Dima
“Bresson’s stillness is a limpid and natural act of consciousness in front of an impassive world. He stands at the heart of cinema.” Massimo Causo