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Film / Au Hasard Balthazar

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"Everyone who sees this film will be absolutely astonished (...) because this film is really the world in an hour and a half."
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Au Hasard Balthazar ("Balthazar, at Random") is a 1966 film directed by Robert Bresson. The film follows a donkey named Balthazar from birth to death. Balthazar starts off enjoying an idyllic childhood belonging to a farmer and his daughter, but, over the years, he passes from owner to owner, experiencing cruelty and abuse.

The film is probably Bresson's most famous and was voted the 16th greatest film of all time in the 2012 Sight and Sound Poll. Many critics regard it as the greatest film to feature an animal as the main character.


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Tropes:

  • The Alcoholic: Arnold, one of Balthazar's owners, is this.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Marie is attracted to Gerard who mistreats both her and Balthazar.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The gun Gerard hands to Arnold is earlier seen in his room.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Subverted. As children Marie and Jacques vow to marry each other, but, as adults, Marie is more attracted to Gerard.
  • Crapsack World: The people in the village range from weak to cruel.
  • Downer Ending: After getting assaulted by Gerard, Marie is sent off somewhere and her father dies shortly after. Then Gerard tries to use Balthazar for smuggling, resulting in the donkey getting shot and dying the next day. Gerard doesn't pay for his crimes.
  • Dull Surprise: Bresson forbade his actors from showing any emotion as part of his Signature Style.
  • The End: The movie ends on a "Fin" Title Card.
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  • Establishing Character Moment: Gerard and his friends are introduced pouring oil on a road so that cars driving on it will slide off and crash.
  • Fan Disservice: After Gerard and his gang have lured Marie to the derelict house, there is a lingering shot of her huddled naked on the floor, weeping.
  • The Gentleman or the Scoundrel: Marie has two love interests. There's Jacques, the well-educated and kind childhood friend, and Gerard, an outright criminal who's abusive to Marie.
  • Gilligan Cut: Arnold vows to himself to never touch alcohol again. Cut to him having a drink at a bar.
  • Helpless Observer Protagonist: Balthazar is the view-point character and is stuck in the role of observer since he's an animal that can't communicate with the humans, who drive the story, around him.
  • Honor Before Reason: Marie's father loses everything because of his false sense of pride in court.
  • Jerkass: Gerard and his friends are all extremely cruel.
  • Kick the Dog: Too many examples to list, often with Balthazar as the victim.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: Gerald's friends kick Arnold while he is lying on the ground.
  • Mature Animal Story: A donkey is the protagonist, but the movie is a very pessimistic tale where both the animal and his kind owner are abused by everyone around them, culminating in a very sad ending. It's likely to either upset or bore children.
  • Playful Pursuit: Gerard chases Marie around the donkey at one point.
  • Shameful Strip: Gerard and his friends do this to Marie. They also beat her and lock her in a building.
  • Sliding Scale of Animal Cast: There are plenty of humans, but Balthazar is the true protagonist.
  • The Sociopath: Gerard shows no redeeming traits at all.
  • Sweetie Graffiti: Late in the movie, Marie refers to Jacques's carved Love Doodles on the bench when they were kids.
  • Time-Compression Montage: A montage showing Balthazar growing up to an adult donkey.
  • Untranslated Title: At least in English-speaking territories, the title remains Au Hasard Balthazar. It translates into "Balthazar at random".
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: At one point Gerard goes ballistic at a party and starts breaking stuff and flipping tables. The people around him just carry on dancing, looking completely uninterested (both in what Gerard is doing and the dancing).
  • What Does She See in Him?: What the mother asks of Marie regarding her feelings for Gerald.
  • Would Hit a Girl: When Marie performs an Armor-Piercing Slap on Gerald he subverts it with a double Bitch Slap.

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