A new-born donkey is baptised. Loved, sold, beaten and cruelly abused over several years, Bresson has Balthazar pass through many hands and "through all the vices of humanity". Godard observed that, whilst Bresson's other films were "straight lines", Au Hasard Balthazar comprises "concentric circles, overlapping one another". The other principle character is Marie. Impoverished and passionate about the donkey who becomes "a saint", Marie is abused as least as badly as Balthazar. They are one another's sole sources of deep and consistent comfort but while Balthazar is finally released from suffering, no such fate awaits Marie. Much has been made of the parallels between the lives of Christ and Balthazar. The donkey is baptised before suffering and dying for and at the hands of others. But the film is not symbolic. The narrative is expansive and elliptical but brutally material. All that one requires is evident, photographed and recorded. Which is not to say that the film does not yield deeper levels of emotion and meaning. Nor is the film dour or sentimental. The narrative is peppered with Bresson's ironic wit, directed, for example, at the artists discussing "action painting". It is also underpinned by the donkey's wilful and stubborn refusal of victimhood, prior to eventual acceptance of his destiny.
Anne Wiazemsky, Walter Green, François Lafarge, Jean-Claude Guilbert, Philippe Asselin, Pierre Klossowski, Nathalie Joyaut, Marie-Claire Fremont, Jean-Joël Barbier, Guy Renault, Jean Rémignard, Guy Brejac, Mylène Weyergans