Directed by: Robert Bresson
Written by: Robert Bresson
Starring: Anne Wiazemsky, Walter Green, François Lafarge, Philippe Asselin, Nathalie Joyaut
How we treat animals says plenty about one’s character, especially those that live to serve like our good friend Balthazar. With it being an unrelenting ride of heinous acts, Au Hasard Balthazar is a story that may be extremely difficult to sit through, but it tells an incredibly relevant and potent story about unrelenting abuse.
Balthazar gets adopted as a baby donkey, which begins his journey to working for people that do not respect him as an animal and the work he can accomplish. Additionally, throughout his travels, he interacts with Marie (Anne Wiazemsky) as their lives intersect and unfortunately show some troubling similarities.
The journey that poor Balthazar endures in the film not only to show his pain but also demonstrate the true evil that humans possess. I’ve always heard that those who abuse animals will end up doing so to people in the future. A saying that this feature goes to prove in the way each character treats the donkey and the correlation in the way they treat someone like Marie. It may be difficult to understand how a film could follow a donkey as a protagonist. Films have centered on animals but usually, they carry an inner dialogue that humans cannot hear, or they’re completely animated and talk.
As an audience, we can only infer what goes through the mind of Balthazar and if he can even fully comprehend everything that happens to him. Director Robert Bresson does well in focusing on the eyes of the donkey because it provides a window into its feelings more than what some inner-thoughts it may have. It only gets sadder when seeing that he follows his role and assists others even when they carry such venomous intentions.
On the other side, the film also follows the life of Marie in the instances where she reunites with Balthazar. Marie’s life does not fare much better than the donkey as she continually gets disrespected by the men in her life. Whether it be through sexual abuse or complete humiliation, she suffers at the hand of men as they show different forms of evil to both her and the donkey. The film carries so much pain and any time where a point of levity or happiness may arrive, it gets erased when we get reminded of the reality of this world.
Even with the potency of the message, I had trouble with the film’s pacing and how it would move at a languid pace. While the detailed moments would have their power, other moments outside of it would not live up to the story. Even with the very short runtime of 95 minutes, the story feels much longer when sitting and experiencing it. Now that may be the desired effect because the entire film is a hellscape for both Balthazar and Marie, but it did not land the same way for me, which goes back to the pacing.
Au Hasard Balthazar may not be a film I revisit again, but it deserves to be experienced because of the great work being accomplished on screen. It’s considered essential viewing for any cinema lover and I certainly agree with that sentiment. Its detailing of the abuse from the hands of men persists for the entirety of the film and as has been proven by all of history. There’s simply something about showing it through the eyes of an animal that provides such a harrowing impact. Beings that do not have the same mental capacity as a human but still feels all of the pain without knowing the reason. It may not be for everyone, but it definitely effectively tells its story.