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A Donkey of a Movie: Au hasard Balthazar

9th August 2005

Last night my film buff friend and I watched Robert Bresson’s masterpiece, Au hasard Balthazar (1966). This film is considered by many to be one of the best movies of all time. The film follows the life of a humble donkey through a series of masters, paralleled by the life of a young woman, Marie. The cinematography and score are both magnificent. The film has a sparse and evocative feel to it. It’s the type of film that you could view repeatedly and ponder endlessly (as the critics appear to do). I’m not sure if Bresson meant it to be understood typologically or allegorically, but such a reading would certainly fit. At the very least it narrates the life of a simple beast of burden who humbly accepts the cruelty of his masters. It’s definitely worth a watch — and make sure to view the fully restored Criterion Collection edition if you can. It is available from and Amazon.ca and Amazon.com.

Note for parents of small children: If you decide to view Au hasard Balthazar don’t bother to try to explain to your kids what you are going to watch! I made the mistake of telling my kids, and they couldn’t understand why I would want to watch a film about a donkey — especially one that doesn’t talk or say rude things (cf. Shrek). Perhaps one day they will appreciate more than Disney or Dreamworks!

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