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OPENS FEB. 13

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Of all the things that Robert Bresson insisted on removing from his films, foremost was the actor’s consciousness. So it follows that the most Bressonian of the director’s movies is the one in which the lead character was the blankest: a donkey. The title character of Au Hasard, Balthazar (“Balthazar at Random”) is a baby donkey adopted by childhood sweethearts Marie and Jacques. Marie is a local girl, and Jacques visits every summer from Paris, but after Jacques’ invalid sister dies, his family stops spending its vacations in the small town where Marie lives with her overly proud father. Hard times lead to Balthazar’s being sold to the first of many cruel masters, while Marie (Anne Wiazemsky, pictured, who would grow up to be Mrs. Jean-Luc Godard) falls under the influence of Gerard (François Lefarge), the leader of the local youth gang. Periodically rescued by his equally powerless alter ego, Marie, Balthazar variously serves the town’s baker, an alcoholic, and a traveling circus. But if Balthazar is an incarnation of the suffering Christ—a connection made repeatedly in Bresson’s simple yet mysterious images—then it’s Gerard who’s his Judas, finally leading the donkey to his lonely, poignant death. You needn’t share Bresson’s harsh brand of Catholicism to find the film moving; the director’s bleak worldview finds its ideal expression in his austere compositions, stark narrative, and careful use of sound. Au Hasard, Balthazar often seems empty of everything except hardship, yet it is—in Godard’s phrase—Bresson’s “most complete” film. The film screens daily (see Showtimes for a full schedule) to Thursday, Feb. 19, at the American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. $8.50. (301) 495-6700. (Mark Jenkins)