Robert Bresson is one of the few directors in the history of world cinema who worked entirely on his terms and turf without interference from anyone, resolutely insisting that his vision of the world was nearer the mark than his contemporaries, and pursuing a directorial style which is so uniquely his own that there is no mistaking a Bresson film for a work by any other director. A devout Catholic, Bresson made only 14 films in his 50-year career as a director, a measure of how seriously he planned each next project.
Au Hasard Balthazar is, like most of Bresson's films, a religious parable. Here, the lead character is a donkey, christened Balthazar early in the film, who endures endless punishment from a variety of cruel masters and crueler circumstances, until, at the end of the film, he finally and peacefully dies, and, by implication, is welcomed into paradise. As in all his films, Bresson uses his actors (whom he habitually referred to as "models") in the sparest possible manner. Much is told through gesture alone, and speech and music are kept to a minimum. In his direction of the players, Bresson strips down their mannerisms until they disappear, and only the essence of their humanity appears on the screen. Balthazar's life is one of unrelieved pain and sadness, yet one gets the sense that the donkey stoically accepts this sad lot as his predestined fate without complaint, certain of his eventual spiritual salvation
Much has been written about this film, and it remains as powerful today as when first released; it is a reminder of a time when films of considerable artistic ambition could still be assured of reasonable returns at the box office, unlike today. In the blockbuster climate of 21st century cinema, Au Hasard Balthazar seems like a miracle, a breath of fresh air from another time and place, in which both artistic originality and the human spirit were equally valued. Compelling, humbling, and stunning in its visual construction, Au Hasard Balthazar is a one-of-a-kind film from an absolutely unique filmmaker.