Title: Au Hasard Balthazar
Release Date: May 25, 1966
Director: Robert Bresson
Production Company: Cinema Ventures
It’s a movie about the life of donkey, this should be sweet and light! Or not. Au Hasard Balthazar needs content warnings not just for animal cruelty but for the repeated abuse and sexual assault of a woman. That woman is Marie (Anne Wiazemsky), one of the children in a rural village in the Pyrenees who baptizes the young donkey Balthazar in the opening scene.
Years pass by and as Balthazar is passed from cruel owner to cruel owner, the teenaged Marie is the main human protagonist and one of the few people who are kind and affectionate to the donkey. Unfortunately for Marie, she’s only able to find escape from her constricted life in an abusive relationship with the film’s main antagonist, the smug and evil criminal Gérard (François Lafarge).
While I don’t believe that movies need a “Hollywood ending,” I also don’t understand why so many “great films” have to be unbearably bleak. There is no humor or humanity anywhere in this film. Roger Ebert wrote a beautiful review of this movie, and I totally agree that Balthazar’s story is designed to elicit empathy. I don’t agree with how Breeson handles the human actors who’s dialogue often sounds stilted and as if they’re reciting philosophical treatise. The way Breeson constructs Marie’s story is basically torture porn (not surprisingly 65-year-old Breeson was sexually pursuing the 18-year-old Wiazemsky behind-the-scenes) and borderline misogynistic.
Maybe this isn’t a “bad movie” by definition, but it makes me feel bad and I don’t like it.