Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)

Brief Intro

“Au Hasard Balthazar,” directed by Robert Bresson, is a profound French drama released in 1966. The film follows the life of a donkey named Balthazar, who passes through the hands of various owners, each representing different aspects of human nature. Through Balthazar’s journey, Bresson paints a poignant portrait of innocence and suffering, making this film a touchstone in cinematic history.

Literary Devices Used in Au Hasard Balthazar

Bresson employs numerous literary devices to deepen the narrative and thematic richness of “Au Hasard Balthazar.” Here’s a detailed look at ten significant devices and specific scenes where they are evident:

1. Symbolism

Movie SceneDevice Example
Balthazar’s BaptismBalthazar being baptized symbolizes innocence and purity.
Marie’s relationship with BalthazarBalthazar represents unconditional love and patience.

2. Allegory

Movie SceneDevice Example
Balthazar’s lifeBalthazar’s suffering allegorizes Christ-like martyrdom.
The villagers’ treatment of BalthazarRepresents societal cruelty and indifference.

3. Irony

Movie SceneDevice Example
Balthazar’s deathThe innocent suffer while the guilty continue unpunished.
Gerard’s treatment of BalthazarGerard’s cruelty contrasts with Balthazar’s innocence.

4. Metaphor

Movie SceneDevice Example
Balthazar as a burden bearerBalthazar metaphorically carries the sins and sufferings of his owners.
The school sceneThe children’s treatment of Balthazar reflects societal ignorance and cruelty.

5. Foreshadowing

Movie SceneDevice Example
Early scenes of abusePredicts Balthazar’s continual suffering.
Marie’s father’s actionsForeshadows the family’s downfall.

6. Juxtaposition

Movie SceneDevice Example
Balthazar and MarieTheir mutual innocence juxtaposed with the surrounding cruelty.
Rural idyll vs. human crueltyBeautiful landscapes contrast with the harshness of human actions.

7. Motif

Movie SceneDevice Example
Bells ringingBells signify important transitions in Balthazar’s life.
Recurrent sufferingBalthazar’s continuous suffering serves as a recurring motif.

8. Pathos

Movie SceneDevice Example
Balthazar’s beatingsEvokes deep sympathy and sorrow from the audience.
Marie’s tearsHighlights the emotional pain experienced by characters.

9. Parallelism

Movie SceneDevice Example
Balthazar’s journey and Christ’s PassionParallels between Balthazar’s suffering and Christ’s crucifixion.
Marie’s and Balthazar’s fateTheir intertwined destinies reflect parallel paths of suffering.

10. Antithesis

Movie SceneDevice Example
Innocence vs. CorruptionBalthazar’s purity contrasted with human corruption.
Love vs. CrueltyMarie’s love for Balthazar vs. others’ cruelty.

Character Analysis Through Literary Devices

Character Studies


SymbolismMarie symbolizes innocence and purity, mirroring Balthazar’s character.
JuxtapositionHer innocence is often contrasted with the cruelty of those around her.


IronyGerard’s cruelty to Balthazar highlights the irony of his own suffering later.
ForeshadowingHis early abusive behavior hints at his eventual downfall.


AllegoryBalthazar represents the Christ-like figure, bearing suffering silently.
PathosHis suffering evokes a deep emotional response from the audience.

Character Dynamics

The relationships between characters drive the narrative and underscore the film’s themes:

  • Marie and Balthazar: Their bond highlights themes of innocence and unconditional love. Balthazar’s loyalty and Marie’s affection form the emotional core of the film.
  • Gerard and Balthazar: Gerard’s cruelty juxtaposed with Balthazar’s innocence emphasizes the theme of suffering and human cruelty.
  • Marie and Gerard: Their relationship explores themes of corruption and innocence lost, illustrating how external influences can corrupt purity.

Thematic Analysis

Innocence and Suffering

SymbolismBalthazar’s character symbolizes innocence amidst a corrupt world.
PathosHis continual suffering evokes empathy and highlights the harshness of life.

Human Cruelty and Indifference

IronyThe innocent suffer while the guilty often go unpunished.
AllegoryBalthazar’s life serves as an allegory for the suffering of the innocent in a cruel society.

Redemption and Sacrifice

MetaphorBalthazar as a burden bearer represents sacrifice and redemption.
ParallelismParallels between Balthazar’s journey and Christ’s Passion emphasize themes of redemption.

Cinematic Techniques That Enhance Literary Devices

Visual and Sound Techniques

Literary DeviceTechniqueExplanation
SymbolismVisual imageryBalthazar’s scenes are often shot with serene, natural backdrops symbolizing purity.
PathosSound designThe use of silence and natural sounds during Balthazar’s suffering enhances emotional impact.
Literary DeviceTechniqueExplanation
AllegoryFraming and compositionBalthazar is often centered in the frame, highlighting his symbolic importance.
IronyMusicContrasting music scores underscore the irony of joyful moments juxtaposed with suffering.

Key Scene Analysis

Scene Selection

Balthazar’s Baptism

  • Link: Balthazar’s Baptism
  • Breakdown: This scene uses symbolism to depict Balthazar’s initial innocence and purity. The serene cinematography and gentle music underscore this theme.

Gerard’s Cruelty

  • Link: Gerard’s Cruelty
  • Breakdown: The stark, harsh visuals and sound design emphasize the cruelty Balthazar endures, highlighting themes of suffering and human indifference.


To wrap up our analysis, here’s an interactive quiz to test your understanding of the literary devices used in “Au Hasard Balthazar.”


  1. Which literary device is used to compare Balthazar’s journey to a Christ-like figure?
  2. In which scene is symbolism prominently featured?
    • a) Gerard’s Cruelty
    • b) Balthazar’s Baptism
    • c) The School Scene
    • d) Marie’s Tears
  3. What theme is highlighted by Balthazar’s continual suffering?
    • a) Redemption
    • b) Human Indifference
    • c) Love
    • d) Power
  4. Which character represents the theme of innocence?
    • a) Gerard
    • b) Marie
    • c) The Villagers
    • d) Balthazar
  5. How does Bresson use sound design to enhance the theme of pathos?
    • a) By using loud, jarring music
    • b) By employing silence and natural sounds
    • c) By incorporating dialogue
    • d) By using a narrator

Answers: 1. b) Allegory, 2. b) Balthazar’s Baptism, 3. b) Human Indifference, 4. d) Balthazar, 5. b) By employing silence and natural sounds