Au hasard Balthazar
, (French: "By-chance Balthazar"), also known as Balthazar
, is a 1966 French film directed by Robert Bresson
, starring Anne Wiazemsky
The film follows Marie (Wiazemsky), a shy farm girl, and her beloved donkey Balthazar, through many years. As Marie grows up the pair become separated, but the film traces both their fates as they continue to live a parallel existence, continually taking abuse of all forms from the people they encounter. The donkey has several owners, most of whom exploit it, often with more cruelty than kindness. He bears his suffering with nobility and wisdom, becoming a saint in the process. In the end, both suffer often at the hands of the same people.
According to Wiazemsky's 2007 novel Jeune Fille
, she and Bresson developed a close relationship during the shooting of the film, although it was never consummated. On location they each stayed in adjoining rooms and Wiazemsky says "at first, he would content himself by holding my arm, or stroking my cheek. But then came the disagreeable moment when he would try to kiss me ... I would push him away and he wouldn't insist, but he looked so unhappy that I always felt guilty." Later Wiazemsky lost her virginity to a member of the film's crew, which she says gave her the courage to reject Bresson as a lover. Bresson was known to cast non-professional actors and use their inexperience to create a specific type of realism in his films. Wiazemsky states: "It was not his intention to teach me how to be an actress. Almost against the grain, I felt the emotion the role provoked in me, and later, in other films, I learned how to use that emotion."
The film's religious imagery, spiritual allegories and naturalistic, minimalist aesthetic style has been unanimously praised by film reviewers. This "brief, elliptical tale about the life and death of a donkey" has "exquisite renderings of pain and abasement" and "compendiums of cruelty" that tell a powerful spiritual message.
The noted filmmaker, and Cahiers du Cinema critic, Jean-Luc Godard, famously said of the film "Everyone who sees this film will be absolutely astonished," "because this film is really the world in an hour and a half." Godard would go on to marry Wiazemsky in 1967.
The film premiered at the 1966 Venice Film Festival where it won the OCIC Award and the Jury Hommage.