"Robert Bresson is one of the saints of the cinema, and "Au Hasard Balthazar" (1966) is his most heartbreaking prayer. The film follows the life of a donkey from birth to death, while all the time living it the dignity of being itself--a dumb beast, noble in its acceptance of a life over which it has no control. Balthazar is not one of those cartoon animals that can talk and sing and is a human with four legs. Balthazar is a donkey, and it is as simple as that.
Bresson suggests that we are all Balthazars. Despite our dreams, hopes and best plans, the world will eventually do with us whatever it does. Because we can think and reason, we believe we can figure a way out, find a solution, get the answer. But intelligence gives us the ability to comprehend our fate without the power to control it. Still, Bresson does not leave us empty-handed. He offers us the suggestion of empathy. If we will extend ourselves to sympathize with how others feel, we can find the consolation of sharing human experience, instead of the loneliness of enduring it alone.
The final scene of "Au Hasard Balthazar" makes that argument in a beautiful way. The donkey is old and near death, and wanders into a herd of sheep--as, indeed, it began its life in such a herd. The other animals come and go, sometimes nuzzling up against it, taking little notice, accepting this fellow animal, sharing the meadow and the sunshine. Balthazar lies down and eventually dies, as the sheep continue about their business. He has at last found a place where the other creatures think as he does." - Roger Ebert