Jim Ridley wrote:
With exquisite, heartrending calm, Bresson’s 1966 masterpiece Au Hasard Balthazar lays out the life of a donkey, from first brays to final rest. Baptized Balthazar, the donkey goes through passages of life parallel to his early owner, a farmer’s daughter named Marie (played as an adult by Anne Wiazemsky).
Together and separately, they experience the full spectrum of man’s failings: Balthazar is kicked by passing thugs, beaten by an owner, and eventually used for theft, while Marie is seduced, abandoned and ultimately assaulted. Yet while Bresson’s vision is harsh, it’s also redemptive, even merciful. It ends on a note of quiet transcendence, as if to say all suffering, no matter how grave, cannot last.
Believed to be inspired by a passage from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel The Idiot, the film follows a donkey as he is given to various owners, most of whom treat him callously.
The film follows Marie (Wiazemsky), a shy farm girl, and her beloved donkey Balthazar over many years. As Marie grows up, the pair becomes separated, but the film traces both their fates as they live parallel lives, continually taking abuse of all forms from the people they encounter. The donkey has several owners, most of whom exploit him, often with more cruelty than kindness. Balthazar and Marie often suffer at the hands of the same people.