Monday, 23 September 2013


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).

Mouchette is a young teenager living in the tough country. Her mother is going to die, and her father does not take care of her. Mouchette does not manage to express her rebellion against the humiliations she undergoes. One night, in the wood, she meets Arsene. Arsene is the poacher of the village. He thinks he has just killed Mathieu, the rural policeman. He tries to use Mouchette to build an alibi.  

Mouchette has a horrible lot in life, but she doesn't take it all sitting down.  When school lets out, she hides in a ditch and flings mud at the schoolgirls who look down upon her.  When a shopkeeper who had showed her a kindness insults her, Mouchette throws her croissant back.  This little girl is independent and suspicious of charity.

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).
Laura Clifford

Mouchette is based on a novel by Georges Bernanos (who also provided the source for Bresson's 1951 Diary of a Country Priest). Bernanos is a Catholic writer, but in adapting his story of a wretched adolescent girl, Bresson evokes a world from which something—perhaps God—has withdrawn. "What will they become without me?" Mouchette's mother asks the camera in a stark, pre-credit prologue.

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.
J. Hoberman 

Like all good Catholics, Bresson likes to torture young girls. They are the perfect example of a presumed innocence so profound they carry the burden of purity for adults male and female.  Like all purity, the fascination lies in the temptation to violate it, either through the burden of obligation and duty beyond the childs years or the sexual violation. Ultimately, purity equals abjection. Our fascination comes from a certain sort of horror with it. A knowledge that soon she will bleed, become woman and therefore the most unpure of all creatures. Purity is a thing to sacrifice to the gods.

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.
Lisa Thatcher 

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