The film follows Marie (Wiazemsky), a shy farm girl, and her beloved donkey Balthazar over many years. As Marie grows up, the pair becomes separated, but the film traces both their fates as they live parallel lives, continually taking abuse of all forms from the people they encounter. The donkey has several owners, most of whom exploit him, often with more cruelty than kindness. He bears his suffering with nobility and wisdom, becoming a saint in the process. Balthazar and Marie often suffer at the hands of the same people. But in the end, Marie’s fate remains unresolved, whereas the donkey’s is clear.