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Au Hasard Balthazar (The Criterion Collection)

4.0 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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 owner, 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.


Au hazard Balthazar can have a profoundly moving effect on those who are sensitive to its power. Like any film by Robert Bresson, it provokes widely different responses: Many critics have hailed it as a masterpiece, while others (as Pauline Kael observed) "may find it painstakingly tedious and offensively holy." It all depends on what the viewer brings to Bresson's seemingly simple tale of a donkey named Balthazar, who experiences kindness and cruelty as he is passed from owner to owner. Populated by a variety of sinners and saints alike, the film can be seen as a simple animal fable, as Balthazar suffers nobly at the hands of his handlers. Dig deeper into Bresson's art, however, and you're likely to find a very Catholic story with strong parallels to the life of Christ and his unbearable burden of the sins of mankind.

No matter how you approach the film, only the most cold-hearted viewer will be immune to Balthazar's fate. And if you're not sure what to make of it all, this superb Criterion DVD offers two essential bonus features to guide you toward a greater understanding of Bresson's approach to cinema: Film scholar and devoted "Bressonian" Donald Richie offers his astute observations in a 2004 video interview, and in an in-depth French TV appearance from 1966, Bresson talks at length about Au hazard Balthazar along with fellow directors Louis Malle and Jean-Luc Godard, and members of the film's cast and crew. This is a remarkable document from a bygone era, when "art film" was at its peak, and directors (especially French ones) were eager to discuss the intellectual significance of their work. Kudos to Criterion for including this archival gem of film appreciation. --Jeff Shannon

Special Features

  • Video interview with film scholar Donald Richie
  • "Un metteur en ordre: Robert Bresson," a 1966 French TV Program abou the film featuring Bresson, Jean-Luc Goddard, Louis Malle and others
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • A new essay by Bresson scholar James Quandt

Product Details

  • Actors: Anne Wiazemsky, Walter Green, François Lafarge, Jean-Claude Guilbert, Philippe Asselin
  • Directors: Robert Bresson
  • Writers: Robert Bresson
  • Producers: Mag Bodard
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, Closed-captioned, NTSC, Special Edition, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: June 14, 2005
  • Run Time: 95 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00092ZLEY
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,202 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Au Hasard Balthazar (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. O. DeRiemer TOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 10, 2005
Format: DVD
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?
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Format: DVD
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").
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Format: DVD
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.
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Format: DVD
As a previous reviewer mentioned, Jean-Luc Godard famously remarked that Robert Bresson's brilliant film 'Au Hasard Balthazar' showed 'the world in an hour and a half.' A perfect review of a stunning film. Bresson is widely regarded as a true master of the cinema by film buffs and 'Balthazar' just may be the pinnacle of his career.

Bresson was (in)famous for his unique style of filmmaking. By the time he directed 'Balthazar', Bresson had perfected it to such a degree, that this film stands as the most perfect expression of his unique vision of the world. Bresson is not a easy 'watch'. Rather than show you everything or tell you how to feel, he makes the view work for their rewards. And indeed, watching a Bresson film is a rewarding experience. None more so than 'Au Hasard Balthazar'.

By now you know that the film is 'about' the life of a donkey and it's various owners. But it's about so much more than that. It is a deeply mysterious film that only deepens the more you watch it. Indeed, watching this film is a transcendental experience. I don't want to reveal too much more, you just have to see the film for yourself and decide.

As for the Criterion DVD, there is a reason they have earned their reputation as the 'Rolls Royce' of DVD comapanies. It is superb. The transfer to DVD is stunning. Seeing the re-release of this film on the big screen last year was the single most memorable cinematic event of 2004 for me, but the Criterion transfer actually improves on it! Beautiful work. Although the number of extras on the disc is small, they are terrific. The best is the inclusion of a 1966 French TV program with Bresson, Godard, Louis Malle and others discussing this film.

'Au Hasard Balthazar' is definitely in my Top Ten Greatest Films of All Time list and to see Criterion do it justice is terrific. If you have any serious interest in film and have yet to see this, then go and pick this disc up.
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