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With: Nadine Nortier, Jean-Claude Guilbert, Marie Cardinal, Paul Hebert, Jean Vimenet, Marie Susini, Suzanne Huguenin, Marine Trichet, Raymonde Chabrun
Written by: Robert Bresson, based on a novel by Georges Bernanos
Directed by: Robert Bresson
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 81
Date: 03/28/1967

Mouchette (1967)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Spiritual Release

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's possible to trace a line through the films of Robert Bresson, which is partially what makes his work so fascinating. He begins with his most conventional films (Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne), and even as his signature style develops, his films still manage a certain draw with audiences and critics. But after Au hazard Balthazar (1966), his films begin to take on a certain difficulty, an icy distance that challenges even his most ardent fans.

On a first viewing, Mouchette is as grim as grim can be. An adolescent girl, Mouchette (Nadine Nortier), lives with her dying mother, her drunken father and her squalling baby brother. Her neglect and poverty have reduced her to a perpetual state of sullen brooding; she becomes an outcast at school and prefers her own company. One night, while taking a short cut through the woods and getting caught in the rain, she witnesses a fight between a poacher, Arsène (Jean-Claude Guilbert) and a game warden, Mathieu (Jean Vimenet). Arsène takes Mouchette back to his cabin, convinces her that he has killed his rival, begins to concoct an alibi with her and then (presumably) rapes her. The events of the next day are even more depressing.

Bresson adapted the screenplay from a novel by Georges Bernanos, whose work also provided the basis for Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest (1950). Whereas the previous film reveled in the spiritual, Mouchette forsakes anything hopeful. Or at least it appears so: in one sequence a woman randomly gives Mouchette a coin that allows her to ride the bumper cars at the local carnival. It's the one moment in the film free of care and judgment, and it suggests a key into the movie, if one better utilized through more than one viewing. Certainly the cryptic prologue gains more weight the second time around.

Aside from all this, the black-and-white filmmaking shows Bresson's astonishing mastery once again, notably his attention to seemingly mundane details and use of sound. The film carefully deals with issues of sex and death on many levels, and at the center of it all is lovely little Nortier, an untrained actress who never made another film, wearing her odd pigtails and giving a heartbreakingly wounded performance.

In 2007, the Criterion Collection released this magnificent DVD edition of Mouchette, their fourth Bresson title. Scholar and critic Tony Ryans provides a commentary track including an interesting detail that I knew nothing about: that Bresson is considered a gay icon, even though he himself was both heterosexual and religious. Ryans chooses a few examples of controlled hysteria that he believes might contribute to this following. Other extras include a half-hour documentary about Bresson with behind-the-scenes footage from the Mouchette set, a segment from the TV series "Cinema" with on-set interviews and a trailer (reportedly edited by Jean-Luc Godard). The liner notes include an essay by Robert Polito, the biographer of Jim Thompson.

In 2020, Criterion followed up with a beautiful Blu-ray edition, remastered in 4K, and with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. The bonuses appear to be exactly the same as listed above, although the "Cinema" segment and the trailer have also been remastered in high-def. Still highly recommended.

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