Mouchette (pronounced: [mu.ʃɛt]) is a 1967 French film directed by Robert Bresson, starring Nadine Nortier and Jean-Claude Guilbert. It is based on the novel by Georges Bernanos. It was entered into the 1967 Cannes Film Festival, winning the OCIC Award (International Catholic Organization for Cinema and Audiovisual).
As in other Bresson films, once again an 'innocent' is tormented and witnesses
the worst of man, but this time, unlike the country priest or the donkey
Balthazar, the subject is earthbound and makes a choice against God. And
yet Mouchette's final decision involved two trinities, the three dresses
given her by the undertaker and her three attempts. Nadine Nortier,
who was in her late teens when playing this, her only film role, is perfect,
a nonactor with an expressive face which tells us all we need to know.
All of Bresson's signature touches - the closeups of hands and feet involved
in some task, the use of natural sound - are present with a dollop of irony
added in a school song about not giving in to despair (which Mouchette, of
course, refuses to sing until called out by her teacher).
The girl lives with her sick mother, drunk father, and squalling baby
brother in a hovel by the highway somewhere in rural France. She's
stubborn, sullen, and secretive; her thoughts are scattered. School is
torment, home is worse. Midway through the 78-minute movie, Bresson
allows Mouch-ette something approaching happiness—there's a scene, not
in the novel, in which she's treated to a ride in a fairground bumper
car. The unexpected collisions are a kind of setup for the unfortunate
encounter, soon after, when Mouchette is lost and raped in the woods.
The film's final movement, following the heroine through her last
morning, might be called "The Passion of Mouchette"—it ends on a note
that is at once utterly inconsequential and irrevocably final. As
always, Bresson signifies rather than dramatizes action. The filmmaker
professed to hate theater, and yet in Mouchette, the world itself is a mystical stage. Like any genius, Bresson made rules in order to break them.
Mouchette is on the very tipping point of sexuality. She is Nabokov’s
nymphette and Henry James’ child witness. She sees the girls her age
turn themselves upside down so that their white knickers are revealed,
covering a promise of a sensual future. A young boy exposes himself to
Mouchette (presumably because she is poor and unloveable and therefore
powerless to do anything about it) and Mouchette simply takes it in her
stride. She flirts with a young man at a carnival, on the dodgems as,
like half-child/half-adult creatures, her and a boy deliberately bump
into each other to get one another’s attention. These are the complex
twists in the tales of adolescence. This is all a normal healthy part of
growing into the body.
But nothing is pure for Mouchette and she is the little bird, little
rabbit sacrificed to be made a meal of. Like many adolescents, her
budding experience of sexuality will be as interrupted for her as any of
her experiences of being human. Mouchette suffers. She is born for
suffering. Everyone in Mouchettes life despises her, and as the film
progresses, more and more people band together to take advantage of her.
This is Bresson’s primary message, that victims are ugly creatures, and
there is solidarity in good and there is solidarity in evil. In this
film he focusses on the solidarity in evil. There is an evil complicity
against Mouchette because she has been chosen to prove a point first the
author and then the film maker wanted to make.