Mouchette (1967)

“Bresson was one of a handful of directors whose very frames identified their author. Like Fellini, Hitchcock and Ozu, he had such a distinctive way of seeing that his films resembled no others. What you noticed was the extreme restraint of his actors (he preferred to call them “models”), and the way the action centred on what his characters saw, rather than what they did. “The thing that matters,” he said, “is not what they show me but what they hide from me and, above all, what they do not suspect is in them.”

‘Mouchette’, directed by Robert Bresson in 1967, is a French drama based on a novel by Georges Bernanos. Nadine Nortier plays Mouchette, a young girl with an abusive father and a dying mother who is bullied at school because of her poverty. She lives in a rural village in a farmhouse and cares for her baby brother, occasionally venturing out into the woods and local community. One day she gets lost in the woods during a storm and takes shelter in the house of Arsène, a poacher with epilepsy.  Arsène is worried that he may have killed a man and uses Mouchette as his alibi. She agrees to this but he then rapes her, after which she returns home to witness the death of her mother. She then spends the rest of the movie encountering increasingly condescending villagers before apparently drowning herself in the river. It’s a dour, minimalist study of poverty and childhood, shot in Bresson’s distinctive manner. The performances are understated to the point of lacking emotion, the scenes are shot simply without adornment. Bresson’s camera calmly follows his characters as the move impassively through his story. As with his leanest movie ‘Diary of a Country Priest’, this subtlety serves to paradoxically heighten the drama to an almost intolerable level. Bresson’s approach went on to form a style all of its own, and the movies I was reminded of were those by the Dardenne brothers. There is a strong feeling of connection between the central character in ‘Mouchette’ and the Belgian directors’ 1999 film ‘Rosetta’.

Would I recommend it? I’d recommend all of Bresson’s movies, though this one is more hardcore than others. Perhaps start with ‘Pickpocket’ or ‘A Man Escaped’ and work towards it. Watch in a double bill with ‘Rosetta’.

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