A profound masterpiece from one of the most revered filmmakers in the history of cinema, director Robert Bresson's Au hasard Balthazar follows a much-abused donkey, Balthazar, whose life strangely parallels that of his own... more »er, Marie. A beast of burden suffering the sins of man, Balthazar nevertheless nobly accepts his fate. Through Bresson's unconventional approach to composition, sound, and narrative, this seemingly simple story becomes a moving religious parable of purity and transcendence.« less
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 10/10/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Balthazar is a small donkey, a dumb beast who is seldom used well by his owners, who is mostly abused and worked hard, who accepts what comes, who is born and who dies. Please note: elements of the plot are discussed below. Balthazar was born on a small French farm. We meet two children who love him and who grow up thinking they love each other. The girl's father loses the farm and everything he has because of pride. The young boy moves away, but returns as a man, Jacques (Walter Green), still loving her. And the girl, Marie (Anne Wianzemsky) grows up to be a sad-eyed young woman who is almost as accepting of her fate as Balthazar. She is attracted to Gerard, (Francois Lafarge), a bully and a young criminal. He and his gang steal, beat people and begin to smuggle things across the border. What do you see in that boy, Marie's mother asks her. "I love him. Do we know why we love someone? If he says, 'come,' I come. 'Do this,' and I do it."
Balthazar moves from owner to owner. He's often beaten and kicked. He plows the ground, hauls logs, delivers bread. In a brief moment of glory, he's trained to do number tricks in a provincial circus. His owner finds him and takes him back. Once, he finds his way to the farm where he was born and Marie embraces him. He works circling a well, drawing water up to be bottled by a miserly, cynical farm owner who doesn't feed him well. One night Marie flees her parents and comes to the man's farm. He takes her in, looks at her wet dress, finally offers her some money. Marie pauses but turns him down. She says that her father has had to give their last cent to the creditors. "That's what happens when you place honor above everything," the man tells her. "He's spent his life creating obligations for himself. What for?...Do I have any obligations? I'm free, obliged only to do what serves my interests and can bring me a profit -- and a handsome profit at that. Life's nothing but a fair ground, a marketplace where even your word is unnecessary. A bank note will do." Marie spends the night.
Marie meets Jacques again. He wants to marry her. She refuses. "You see our names carved on this bench, our games with Balthazar. But I don't see a thing. I've no more tenderness, no heart, no feelings. Your words don't affect me anymore. Our vows of love, our childhood promises, move in a world of make-believe, not reality." She walks away.
Old and tired, Balthazar still is given no rest. Gerard and his gang steal him to carry contraband. They are discovered by border guards and shots are fired as they flee. At sun up Balthazar slowly moves from the forest into a meadow. He is bleeding from a gunshot wound. A herd of sheep move toward him. Balthazar rests on the meadow, with the sheep bleating around him, nuzzling him, moving past him. As the sheep move on, Balthazar has died. The movie ends.
This is a sad, poignant movie into which one can read all kinds of meanings. What stands out for me is the sense that life simply goes on whether or not a person is happy. The film is full of characters who are petty, sometimes cruel, jealous, naive or full of pride. Yet they aren't caricatures. They are simply people with many flaws. Balthazar finds himself in their lives. We see things where Balthazar is, but Balthazar doesn't see these things. He doesn't observe and he isn't used by Bresson to make a point. He is a passive, dumb beast who accepts what people do to him. We wait just as Balthazar waits. The movie is permeated, in my view, with great sadness and with the recognition that once a person is on a path, it's not all that easy to change. I'm not particularly sentimental, but the death of the little donkey in the field, surrounded by the sheep, had me wiping my eyes.
The Criterion black and white picture transfer is excellent. There are two particularly fine extras, an interview with Donald Richie and a French TV show about the movie which features Bresson, Louis Malle, Jean-Luc Goddard and members of the movie's cast and crew."
Kip Montgomery | Jackson Heights, NY USA | 06/19/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Au Hasard Balthazar is a profound masterpiece, one of the greatest cinematic artworks (or, simply, artworks) of the twentieth century. I'm not original in saying this: simply do some research and you'll discover how many learned and experienced film experts have praised the greatness of this film.
I will offer this advice, however: all you should need to read to urge you to view this film is Jeff Shannon's superb editorial review above. All I knew before first watching this film was that I loved the other films of Bresson I had seen and that film experts considered this work to be a masterpiece. Fortunately I didn't know anything else about it (except for, perhaps, a cursory outline of the story) and most fortunately I didn't know anything about the ending. So my advice to you is: DO NOT READ ANYTHING ELSE ABOUT THIS FILM. Just watch it. You do not want to read anything that talks about the ending (and I won't say a word about it here myself). Just watch the film. There will be plenty of time to read the many excellent essays on the film out there after you have watched it (...).
Others have mentioned the extras that come on the disc. They are indeed excellent. Also, the transfer is exceptionally beautiful (from the Criterion website: "This new, high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from the 35mm camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, and scratches were removed using the MTI Digital Restoration System. To maintain optimal image quality through the compression process, the picture on this dual-layer DVD-9 was encoded at the highest-possible bit rate for the quantity of materials included"). Just how good the transfer is (and how good the subtitles are) can be proved when you watch the special feature, "Un metteur en ordre: Robert Bresson," a 1966 French television show about the film, featuring Bresson, Jean-Luc Godard, Louis Malle, and members of Balthazar's cast and crew that is included. When they show clips from the film during this feature, you can compare them to the transfer of the film on the disc. There really is no comparison: the print on the disc is crisp and pristine, with beautifully clear subtitles; the clips from the print in the special feature are grainy, hazy, and the subtitles are occasionally difficult to read. In other words, the new, restored high-definition digital transfer is truly spectacular.
There is nothing more to be said. This film is a masterpiece. Buy this DVD or borrow it from a friend, and watch this film as soon as you can. If everyone in the world watched it, what a world we'd be living in."
One of the greatest films i have seen
Stalwart Kreinblaster | Xanadu | 06/16/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"But who am i? I just watched this movie for the first time. I had seen 'Diary of a Country Priest' and 'A Man Escaped'. However, neither of these films adequately prepared me for the emotional experience I confronted with this film which is, in a way, about a donkey. I say -in a way- because it is also about so many other things - love, death, religon, deceit, modernization, sorrow, etc. This overwhelming combination of both simplicity and complexity though common to many Bresson films is so powerful in Balthazar that at times we feel we have transcended film. It is more like a look inside Bresson's spirit than it is like watching a movie. I don't meen spirit in the christian sense - but more of a transcendental view of the world - as Bresson's film is so much about detail - detail of sound and image. I can only say that my personal experience of this film was overwhelming and powerful - I hope that others can experience this as well."
Steven Sprague | Newport Beach, CA | 02/08/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There is something foreign, almost inhuman about this bresson film - the nearly complete lack of emotion exhibited by the characters, their hands and feet moving like autotrons. Bresson's communities are flat, colorless, barren and humorless. Still, the power this film has to generate such raw passion and deep sorrow is a mystery. You realize that you've been changed by the artistry of a master, but are at a loss to explain why or how. This film about the life and death of a donkey named Balthazar resonates deeply, and while it may very well be a Christian allegory it need not be - it does not approach you from the intellect. It may very well be a film about mans cruelty to those helpless creatures that have no free will, but then again it need not be. It is not a film that directly pulls on your heartstrings. "Au Hasard Balthazar" is a film that uses characters as both windows and mirrors. Through them we bear witness to man's cruelty, pride, indulgences - weaknesses. Through them our own emotions are pulled from the depths of our subconscious and then projected back at us with the force of moral clarity. Somehow we are cleansed and by watching this all too familiar human landscape of the lost, we somehow find ourselves. And so when the almost unbearable, yet strangely beautiful final scene plays out and the other worldly notes from a Schubert Sonata rain down upon us, through the suffering of this poor beast Balthazar, we are baptized."
Mr. Steiner | New York | 07/22/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Everyone who sees this film will be absolutely astonished," Jean-Luc Godard once said, "because this film is really the world in an hour and a half." Robert Bresson's 1966 masterpiece defies any conventional analysis, telling a story of sin and redemption by following Balthazar, a donkey, as he passes through the hands of a number of masters, including a peasant girl, a satanic delinquent, and a saintly fool. Perhaps the greatest and most revolutionary of Bresson's films, Balthazar is a difficult but transcendently rewarding experience, and the director is better able than in his previous work to put his philosophy of cinema into practice, that is is to say, the filming and meditation of that which is concealed. This is a gorgeous Criterion DVD with and excellent digital transfer, and it includes some fine supplemental material such as a French television program which includes commentary from such notables as Godard, Malle, and Bresson himself, speaking about the film. Never to be missed."