The wise little donkey Balthazar struggles through his innocuous life and becomes a saint among sinners, while Marie’s downfall is a stark contrast, her vice is her lifelessness. Director/writer Robert Bresson’s diminutive parable reaches epic proportions as his lens captures the ignoble origins of rural life and finally attains the majesty of salvation.
The story begins with Marie adopting a foal she names Balthazar: she and her friends even baptize the baby donkey in a playful ritual. Marie and Balthazar form a bond of love, though both will be held in physical and emotional bondage for the remainder of their lives. The donkey accepts his hard existence but finds ways to subvert his captors, whether it’s by tipping a cart or breaking the bridle, braying and kicking, while Marie surrenders to her nowhere fate, always depending upon others and soon becomes victim to selfishness. Marie spurns the one boy who professes his passion and runs away with Gerard, the leather jacketed “bad boy” who uses her up…and casts her out like trash.
Marie becomes addicted to the adrenaline of ecstasy, and wanders through a stormy night willing to sell her body for a warm bed. Her father is an egotistical man locked in his own world of pride and self-denial, unable to accept reality or offer forgiveness: Marie has learned well.
Bresson captures the raw power of life force, the harmonic resonance that synchronizes living beings, whether they are Homo Sapiens or Equus Africanus Asinus. In one touching scene, the donkey escapes from a cruel taskmaster and finds its way to the manger where it once knew happiness, and Marie hears its cry and comes to his aid. We begin to see Balthazar as an intelligent and compassionate animal as he makes his way through the difficult terrain of his life, and he becomes blameless in his hardships…unlike Marie. Both fall by the sword and become portions for foxes, though Marie is offered a choice: her violent fate remains ambiguous while Balthazar has no chance at all. Finally, a tiny suffering life is shepherded from the mountaintops to the Elysium fields.
Final Grade: (A+)