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Mouchette [DVD] [1967]
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 1 July 2014
Robert Bresson's 1967 masterpiece Mouchette is the second of two adaptations he made of novels by the French Catholic and staunch monarchist writer Georges Bernanos. The first was Diary of a Country Priest (Journal d'un curé de campagne), a film made in 1951 and considered by many (including Andrei Tarkovsky no less) as the greatest spiritual work ever committed to celluloid. For me that is Bresson's most difficult film and I will come back to a comparison between it and Mouchette when I review it later. For now, I think it more enlightening to draw parallels between Mouchette and its immediate predecessor, Au hasard Balthazar (1966). This was the one and only time in Bresson's career where he made two films in quick succession (securing funds was a perennial problem for him) and similarities between the two are so close that one could be considered a loose reworking of the other.

Both films are set in the French countryside and address the poverty of village life in a direct and accusatory manner that provoked French audiences upon first release. Mouchette in particular caused consternation with its story of a poor teenage girl (the Mouchette of the title) who endures a miserable existence, one which she can escape in the end only by killing herself. Apparently, in the world according to Robert Bresson death is preferable to life in a French village and the outrage caused by the film's release is understandable, especially when the parents of Nadine Nortier (the girl who plays Mouchette) complained long and loud about Bresson's usage of their daughter.

Like the poor donkey Balthazar, Mouchette is forced to negotiate the 7 Stations of the Cross on the way to her Calvary - her final redemption and her attainment of grace. The Biblical Passion-like allegory of Au hasard Balthazar is made very obvious by the donkey being born in a barn and undergoing a journey rife with obvious (and many not so obvious) references to the gospels. In Mouchette, the parallels are less clear, but anyone who has seen Au hasard will grasp that we are dealing with exactly the same territory. The donkey went through 7 owners in his negotiation of the Cross from birth to death. We come into Mouchette's life 15 years after her birth and find her Stations of the Cross consist of dealing with the various tormentors that surround her. She has to look after her dying mother (Marie Cardinal) and tend for her baby sibling. She has to deal with the bullying of her alcoholic bootlegger father (Paul Hebert) who treats her like a piece of his property. She has to suffer the humiliation of her school teacher who reduces her to tears by forcing her to sing in tune in front of class. She is used as an alibi by the tramp Arsène (Jean-Claude Guilbert who plays virtually the same role in Au hasard - the only Bresson model to appear in more than one of his films) to escape a murder charge before being raped by him. She has to suffer an inquisition by the gamekeeper Mathieu (Jean Vimenet) and his wife as to why she stayed overnight with Arsène in his hovel and is pushed into a confession to having been sexually violated. Then after her mother's death she has to suffer the stares of nosy village neighbors - the shopkeeper who gives her coffee to satisfy her prying curiosity, a pious undertaker who gives her a sheet to wrap her mother's corpse in for the funeral and then boys who flash her in the street for fun. `Mouchette' is a colloquial French word meaning `little fly' and that is exactly how she is treated by everyone around her. It's difficult to think of a character in another film who suffers like Mouchette. Like Balthazar and of course like Jesus Christ Himself, she takes on her suffering for the sake of us all. Of all the models that appear for Robert Bresson, Nadine Nortier gives a 'performance' (if that's what we can call it - it's more like a luminous `presence') which is the most heart-breaking of all. Once you have seen this film and have empathized with Mouchette, her face will stay with you forever.

I have highlighted similarities between Bresson's two pastoral masterpieces, but in two radical ways they are very different. Firstly, Balthazar is an animal and is therefore `pure' and `innocent', the cruelties of man being refracted through him to the soft sounds of Schubert. Mouchette is an adolescent girl, and though she is innocent to a degree, she is also tough and answers insults with insolence. As per usual Bresson isn't interested in the psychology of how she is a victim of her social environment. Rather he continues with his Jansenist predestinarian belief that her fate has already been decided and she will gain redemption irrespective of whether she is `good' or `bad'. Therefore, Bresson doesn't hesitate to strip her character of any kind of sentimentality to make a film which is as harsh as any I have ever seen. Almost all the bad things that happen to her are answered back by Mouchette in kind. She insults her father when she goes out to find milk against his orders. She throws mud at her classmates who bully her. She refuses to sing for her teacher - at first we think the teacher is bullying her, but later we find out she can sing the same song perfectly well at home and was just being insolent earlier. She at first fights Arsène's sexual advances before seeming to acquiesce to them (watch her hands caress his back). She throws back the shopkeeper's charity in her face, she grinds mud into the undertaker's carpet and then finally she thumbs her nose at God Himself by self-destructing - remember suicide is forbidden by the Catholic Church. And yet, as the beautiful Monteverdi music (the Magnificat from the 1610 Vespers) tells us, she attains grace nevertheless. Mouchette is no innocent angel in Bresson's hands and her suffering (and how she makes others suffer in return) routes her very firmly in the reality of French country life. In this sense she becomes less like Balthazar and more like Marie, the heroine of Au Hasard who undergoes a comparable decline albeit without exhibiting any of Mouchette's insolence.

The second difference lies in the different narrative structures of the two films. Au hasard is Bresson at his most elliptical. A myriad of stories take place around the donkey. As he suffers we are propelled forward in time over a number of years with quite extraordinary swiftness. The complexity of the narrative is awe-inspiring in how much Bresson manages to squeeze into 90 minutes. By contrast Mouchette is extremely simple. The action takes place over just a few days and the story of Mouchette's victimization is rendered straight and direct in the manner of a Biblical parable. Au hasard has us casting around, playing detective to spot the clues to piece together the various stories that occur while Mouchette is built out of very clearly defined scenes which are precisely designed with impeccable balance to chart the girl's advance towards redemption.

The film opens with a monologue delivered straight to camera by Mouchette's mother sitting in a chair. She says "What will become of them without me? I can feel it in my breast. It's like a stone inside". On one level 'them' means her family and 'it' is the cancer that is killing her. But the fact that we don't know who this character is yet, that she rises after speaking to reveal her to be in a church, and that the camera remains fixed on the empty chair as the credits play to the Monteverdi on the soundtrack would appear to suggest a much more universal meaning to her words. Could she represent the Virgin Mary (everyone's Mother) so that 'them' means everyone living in the village (in the world?) and 'it' is the cancer (the evil) killing off society around them? Without belief in God and the existence of the love of man for man society is in danger of extinction.

It is this endangered society which Bresson goes on to depict throughout the film. Notice the framing sequences depicting hunting both immediately after the opening credits and immediately before Mouchette's suicide. The gamekeeper Mathieu is ostensibly trying to stop Arsène poaching on (presumably) private property. Actually they are both dueling with each other for the attentions of the local barmaid Luisa (Marine Trichet). She is presented by Bresson as what Mouchette would turn into in the future, another woman who is hunted, spied on and trapped by a patriarchal society. Women are the objects of the hunt, not the animals.

Bresson's perception of women being at the mercy of a patriarchal society (the hunt) is crystallized beautifully in the key fairground sequence which happens one Sunday morning after a church service. Mouchette leaves her father boozing away at his café table to play on the dodgems. There she encounters (in a brilliantly edited, wonderfully lyrical little scene) a young man. They enjoy bashing into each others' cars. Then something miraculous happens. Mouchette smiles! It is like the sun bursting through dark and oppressive clouds. Encouraged, she approaches the man who is now standing at a shooting gallery (more hunting!) still wearing the same shy smile. Immediately the smile is wiped off her face by the harsh slap of her father who pushes her back into her place at the table sitting by his side. Tears silently roll. It is a devastating truly heart-breaking moment - one of the very greatest in all of Bresson's films. The director doesn't stop there either, for at the same time we have Mathieu again trying to come on to Luisa in the bar (while his wife sits outside!) and then jealously watching her take a ride with Arsène on another of the fairground attractions. Bresson here gives us another hunting ground with men controlling (or seeking to control) the women around them. We realize Luisa is a grown-up version of Mouchette and that Mouchette's situation will never change if she doesn't leave the village. But the village is her world and leaving it is a step beyond her capability. All she can do is yield to self-sacrifice. This is the sickness of the patriarchal society which Bresson depicts in his film. At the end as Mouchette wanders into the forest after losing her mother she observes more rabbits being hunted. Harsh gunshots ring out as if they are being fired at her and the parallel with her own suffering is obvious.

The ending is unbearably harsh and depressing, and yet Bresson gives it an astonishing sense of spiritual purity by having Mouchette wrap herself in the shroud meant for her dead mother, by having the sun shine gloriously down on a beautiful scene by the brook, by having her wave (seemingly hopefully) at a farmer on a tractor in a moment of almost clichéd pastoral tranquility and then by the concluding burst of Monteverdi after she splashes into the water. Her soul has ascended to heaven and we are left gutted but exhilarated - that is the sign of quintessential Robert Bresson.

Bresson didn't stay hopeful for long however. Mouchette was his last b/w film and the last which has its main character achieve a firm sense of grace. The misanthropy evidenced in parts of Au hazard and most of Mouchette becomes all-pervasive in the color films that follow as Bresson seems to give up on the condition of his fellow man for good. Characters still engage on an unknowing search for spiritual release, for redemption as per their predestined fate, but this will only be found in acts of suicide or of anti-social violence. For example, in the director's bleak and desolate final film L'argent (1983) one disenchanted man axes a whole family to death in the name of spiritual release and Bresson posits the resulting imprisonment and possible capital punishment as the agents of his redemption.

Mouchette is a tough film, depressing and uplifting in equal measure. Not everyone will be prepared for Bresson's brutality, but the film is a masterpiece and one of the director's key works. As I have said earlier, I recommend watching Au hasard Balthazar first before you see it. You will appreciate Mouchette's plight (and the Christ-like parallels between the donkey and the girl) all the more for it. This is a review of the Nouveaux Pictures release which features decent visual quality (aspect ratio 16:9) and adequate sound. There are some problems related to the way the print has been digitally remastered especially in dark scenes where ghosting becomes noticeable. I see Artificial Eye have reissued it recently and that some recommend that transfer for making the very most out of Ghislain Cloquet's extraordinary photography - of all Bresson's films this is perhaps the most beautiful to look at. However, both this and the AE release have no extras. I find that disappointing - surely such a masterpiece deserves a scholarly commentary as well as a thoughtful documentary to bring this elusive director's work more clearly in front of the public eye. For the ideal presentation you can turn to the Criterion region 1 version which features a commentary by the ever-reliable Tony Rayns, a 30 minute documentary (with footage of the great director in action!), the original trailer cut by Jean-Luc Godard and on-set interviews with Bresson, Nortier and Guilbert. However that version is expensive and you will need a multi-region player to see it. The Criterion Robert Polito essay is at least offered gratis on line. Whichever version you choose, this film has to be seen.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 29 September 2001
One of Bresson's two middle-period masterpieces (the other being Au Hasard Balthazar). Based on a Bernanos novel, this is a stunning portrait of a 14-year-old girl, living in rural poverty, who is rejected by the world, whether her family, her schoolmates, or the other villagers. The only person who shows any interest is a boy at the fairground, who brings about Mouchette's only smile of the film, until her father brusquely separates them. As in nearly all his films, Bresson uses non-professional actors ("models"), a very elliptical and sparse style, and particularly stunning monochrome photography. Dramas involving the other characters are going on beneath the surface, which only really emerge at a second viewing. Finally Mouchette finds a kind of redemption in the only way she can. A superlative film.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 11 July 2005
Robert Bresson (1901-1999) began directing in 1934 and made 13 feature films between 1943-1983, the first two during the German Occupation of France. He achieved great critical acclaim, is widely cited by many of the world's leading film makers as one of their major influences, yet his films never achieved great box office popularity. Described as 'uncompromising', Bresson was not prepared to listen to the marketing people or to sacrifice control over his own art - he made the films he wanted to make, not the ones which would earn money.
Bresson is a director who strives for visual impact - the majority of his films were shot in black and white and he probably demonstrates greater visual control in this medium than in his later, colour films. And the visual element can be emphatic - his films are often sparse in their use of dialogue while Bresson makes exaggerated use of natural sound effects (wind, rain, footsteps, creaking boards).
And Bresson uses unknown or amateur actors - no big names, no easy familiarity with the faces on the screen. Bresson wanted his audience to concentrate on the story and its emotions, even if his style might make these enigmatic, if not cryptic. He began as a painter, and often referred to his actors as 'models' - they were there to provide visual images. And his models were stripped of emotion - he didn't want them to portray emotion as a public show, but to exhibit something more transcendent.
Heavily influenced by a Catholic vision of predestination, Bresson avoids concerted effort to explore the psychology of his characters. In many of his films the characters simply accept their fate - they know they are destined to suffer and battle against an illusion of free will. Bresson's pessimism is evident, but he expressed a conviction that he saw the influence of god more clearly and potently in poverty and suffering. The struggle to resolve the conflict between freewill and destiny is, for Bresson, the essential route to spiritual fulfilment.
"Au Hasard, Balthazar" (1966) and "Mouchette" (1967) - Bresson's last black and white films - are the only ones he ever made in successive years. They are often linked together critically as the high water mark of his cinematographic skill. Themes spill over from the earlier to the later film, as if Bresson felt he needed to resolve issues of teenage alienation and the bleak future which faces a reject waif.
"Mouchette" was banned in places because of its bleak vision, but achieved immense critical acclaim in the 60's and 70's. However, its popularity waned in the 80's, and it has become largely an overlooked classic. It is the tale of a day in the life of a young girl, rejected by and rejecting her school, used as a domestic drudge to look after her sickly mother and new baby, physically abused by her ne'er-do-well father and elder brother. Mouchette is destined never to be happy, destined never to be able to express herself but merely be the tool of others. She needs love, she needs recognition and acceptance, but she remains an outcast.
At best, she can find time to be alone, to be away from adults and their constant demands and criticisms. She has few moments of play - when a boy smiles at her, her father quickly intervenes. Alone, confused, Mouchette's life is one downward spiral, enlivened only by the odd moment when she can get one over on the adults. She finds escape in play.
An evidently bleak film, you are left wondering whether Mouchette is doomed or whether she is able, at the last, to assert control and be decisive about her life. Does she triumph at the end by taking control of her life? Or is this symbolic of spiritual weakness, of her failure to accept the fate god has marked out for her?
An intense cinematographic experience, "Mouchette" is hardly a conventional narrative. It benefits from being watched several times, giving you an opportunity to absorb the intense visual experience Bresson creates. A stunning film, though perhaps showing some sense of age, "Mouchette" deserves to be seen by a much wider public.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 August 2014
Bresson's 1967 depiction of the trials and tribulations of oppressed young girl Mouchette has as its obvious companion-piece (in Bresson's body of work) the previous year's Au Hasard Balthazar. But whereas Bresson's donkey was able to retain some degree of innocence and spirituality, here its human counterpart has had her adolescent 'innocence' ground down so much by human cruelty - led by her alcoholic father played by Paul Hebert - that Mouchette has, despite clutching onto a heartfelt love for her dying mother and baby brother, been driven to cynicism bordering on nihilism (placing her on a par with, say, Kieslowsksi's Jacek in A Short Film About Killing or Haneke's Benny from Benny's Video). As you probably have guessed, Mouchette is far from a barrel of laughs, instead providing another stark, dispassionate Bressonian examination of the dark side of humanity, and the deleterious effects of social alienation, coerced guilt and temptation.

Mouchette displays all the hallmarks of Bresson's trademark (and unique) approach to film-making - predominantly long static shots (courtesy of Ghislain Cloquet's evocative cinematography) plus some 'off-centre' framing, a sparse (but atmospheric) soundtrack featuring Monteverdi and his usual cast of (predominantly) first-time actors. I find Mouchette's cast to have slightly less of the automata (or, in Bresson's words, 'models') about them, with a higher degree of emoting, and Nadine Nortier's role as the film's 'lost innocent', with her increasingly disdainful and desperate take on life, one of Bresson's finest ever screen depictions. Nortier (an 18-year old playing a 14-year old) belies her lack of experience to subtly communicate (often simply by means of discreet facial expressions) what is a complex and confused character, whether it be misplaced trust in Jean-Claude Guilbert's poacher Arsène (in one of the film's key scenes), sadness at the plight of her mother (during the heart-rending 'baby feeding' sequence), guilt (at the hands of a coercive and duplicitous shop-keeper) or disdain and resentment (as she is rebuked by her father following a brief 'respite of joy' on the fun-fair dodgem cars - another brilliant scene). Bresson also tops and tails his film with two outstanding scenes, contrasting humanity with 'more rudimentary animal instincts', as a game bird is trapped by Arsène and then (latterly) as a wounded rabbit struggles for its life (as a despairing Mouchette looks on, empathetically).

As a comparator to Balthasar, both films present (essentially) bleak takes on humanity's lack of compassion (with only glimmers of redemption, despite Mouchette's 'song of hope'). Balthasar, for me, is more 'original' with its spiritual centre taking animal form, however, Mouchette is (sadly) more 'realistic', showing how ('more intelligent') humanity is eventually driven to a state of moral corruption. Both are uniquely powerful pieces of film-making from one of cinema's most distinctive visionaries.

The recent Artificial Eye release also contains an interesting 30-minute German-made documentary on the making of the film.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Mouchette is a particularly sad film, but one that repays close attention. It was the second film Bresson made from a novel by Bernanos, the first being Diary Of A Country Priest that came out 16 years earlier. Over that time he had pared down his style further still, from what was already quite austere. In Mouchette there is no music until right at the end, except as natural background at the funfair. This enables Bresson to get even greater density into the construction of his scenes, so that the passing through a door seems repeatedly to have a symbolic significance we would overlook if there was some other stimulus affecting the emotions. The girl who plays Mouchette is perfectly cast, and she comes across as a relative of Hans Christian Andersen's Little Match Girl. She has a remarkable quality of poise in her face that doesn't contradict her feral, uncommunicative nature, which has developed because no one in her entourage has wanted to communicate with her. Her story is that of the failure of love, and you can feel her reaching out to people on occasion, and generous to her baby brother, holding him in tears after she has been raped. These scenes are heartrending, made even more so by the complete lack of self-pity. There is a lot of nature imagery, which is beautiful but cannot make up for the appalling cruelty Mouchette is subjected to. The young man whom she seems to quite like, met at the bumper cars, draws her attention by constantly bashing into her, as if to say this is the only way of communicating she knows. However she smiles and tries to approach him - he is a bit too old for her - after the ride, but her father comes between them and callously slaps her in the face. It is a film that has an overwhelming sense of despair, but the feeling of grace that Bresson also achieves is such that you do not feel dragged down, because the implication is that our understanding is partial and that faith would require humility before the bigger picture. This is so palpable that it brings a kind of transcendence unique to this filmmaker.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Mouchette is a film about a girl who seems almost predestined to commit suicide, born as she is into an environment that can't fulfill her needs and desires, and into circumstances that only humiliate and degrade her. The film is an object lesson in the power of circumstance in determining the act of suicide. Mouchette's existential trajectory (and that of all her real-world referents) can lead only to the grave, which is shown to be greatly preferable to life above ground, a life that is depicted as little more than a pointless Sisyphean slog for the main character in the film.

Albert Camus once said that suicide is the one really serious philosophical problem. He saw life as absurd, an absurdity born of the tension between man's longing for meaning and purpose, and his inability to find any. Yet believed that we should nevertheless struggle on, rejecting the view that a logical corollary of this conception of life is that suicide is desirable.

Yet this film seems to show that suicide is sometimes inevitable, given the pain that life inevitably entails for so many, and how utterly indifferent the world and human society is to that suffering.

Bresson restores sanity to the act. By showing the concatenation of circumstances leading up to it, context is provided where all too often it is obscured by the concept of suicide as sin and the even more inane theory of suicide as some sort of disease (as if a freely chosen act can be called diseased without doing serious violence to the concept itself).

Unlike psychiatry, which pathologizes the act of suicide (and deprives it of its tragic grandeur and its significance as a protest against the world), Bresson shows the act of suicide to be something of a logical consequence of circumstances that put too great a strain on our powers of endurance. We may think that our society is much more advanced than the ossified provincial society depicted in this film, and in many respects this is true, but the only social mechanism in place for people with suicidal tendencies in our society is psychiatric hospitilization, and many people, once they've fallen within psychiatry's orbit, commit suicide anyway, because of its nasty habit of only augmenting the patient's burden of adversity, and thereby reinforcing the psychological conditions within which suicidal desire thrives.

The character of Mouchette is one of the most fascinating in all of Bresson's work. She cuts a pathetic figure, her countenance ravaged by the privations life has subjected her to, as well as by her unavoidable self-loathing, having been nourished on a diet consisting largely of humiliation, shame, hopelessness, and the petty indignities to which she is regularly subjected. Much like Balthazar, she encounters little in the way of basic human warmth and kindness; most of the characters in the film are your typical provincial types in whom only the basest appetites reside, and in whom the finer sentiments never stir (which kind of reminds me of my youth in the Welsh valleys.)

Given the bleak tapestry of human suffering, futility and hopelessness that presents itself to one's eyes while watching this film, it goes without saying that the film will offer little comfort to those who look to art for affirmation of their beliefs in a just cosmos. Bresson (like Bergman), is one of the few artists who chose courageously to descend into the abyss of human suffering, and for that reason I take more comfort from films like this than from any of the soporific tripe served up in large quantities for mass consumption by people largely indifferent to the more pressing concerns of existence, and who see cinema as a functional equivalent of the theme park (in its providing of aimless thrills) and religion (in its provision of comforting illusions).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 7 August 2013
At long last I have the Blu-Ray of this strange film in my possession after having pursued it for almost a year, I'm still not sure what it is that fascinates me about this bleak film but having seen it at the cinema, bought it on DVD, I had to upgrade to BD to have the best possible picture quality. After first seeing it at the cinema in the seventies what stayed in my memory initially was the austere beauty of the black and white photography and the face of the titular heroine played by the very photogenic Nadine Nortier, since then the film has grown on me with repeated viewings. Mouchette faces impossible odds for a 14 year old in her search to find refuge from her dire surroundings, she has no friends or allies, her only release is in the neighbouring woodlands, and even these are violated by the end. Nevertheless she resists the only way she can, by remaining herself, never for a moment being cowed by anyone, and remaining defiant, it is perhaps only in the last few seconds of the drama that we realise what a remarkable person she was. MPC. THIS REVIEW WRITTEN ON THE 10TH OF MARCH 2014 NOT ON THE ABOVE DATE GIVEN !!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
First of all things i could not have said it crystally clear as Budge Burgess did here and moreover i have been nagging about the 3rd or 4th postponement by Artificial Eye of the BD versions of Mouchette and Au Hasard Balthasar however could not wait any longer to see these films and have now just seen Mouchette which tears your heart apart, it cuts through the strings of your heart, it is a jawdropping movie, it is a masterpiece. This is my first Bresson and now i want to see every film of him. His name felt for the first time when i read about Tarkovsky's quote I am only interested in the views of two people: one is called Bresson and one called Bergman unquote and so being a huge Tarkovsky and Bergman addict i had to find out about Bresson. I will not describe the plot here because this was already beautifully done by Budge Burgess. This movie is highest possible recommendation for anyone who has been without central heating in their soul once in a while.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 30 June 2005
Robert Bresson (1901-1999) began directing in 1934 and made 13 feature films between 1943-1983, the first two during the German Occupation of France. He achieved great critical acclaim, is widely cited by many of the world's leading film makers as one of their major influences, yet his films never achieved great box office popularity. Described as 'uncompromising', Bresson was not prepared to listen to the marketing people or to sacrifice control over his own art - he made the films he wanted to make, not the ones which would earn money.
Bresson is a director who strives for visual impact - the majority of his films were shot in black and white and he probably demonstrates greater visual control in this medium than in his later, colour films. And the visual element can be emphatic - his films are often sparse in their use of dialogue while Bresson makes exaggerated use of natural sound effects (wind, rain, footsteps, creaking boards).
And Bresson uses unknown or amateur actors - no big names, no easy familiarity with the faces on the screen. Bresson wanted his audience to concentrate on the story and its emotions, even if his style might make these enigmatic, if not cryptic. He began as a painter, and often referred to his actors as 'models' - they were there to provide visual images. And his models were stripped of emotion - he didn't want them to portray emotion as a public show, but to exhibit something more transcendent.
Heavily influenced by a Catholic vision of predestination, Bresson avoids concerted effort to explore the psychology of his characters. In many of his films the characters simply accept their fate - they know they are destined to suffer and battle against an illusion of free will. Bresson's pessimism is evident, but he expressed a conviction that he saw the influence of god more clearly and potently in poverty and suffering. The struggle to resolve the conflict between freewill and destiny is, for Bresson, the essential route to spiritual fulfilment.
"Au Hasard, Balthazar" (1966) and "Mouchette" (1967) - Bresson's last black and white films - are the only ones he ever made in successive years. They are often linked together critically as the high water mark of his cinematographic skill. Themes spill over from the earlier to the later film, as if Bresson felt he needed to resolve issues of teenage alienation and the bleak future which faces a reject waif.
"Mouchette" was banned in places because of its bleak vision, but achieved immense critical acclaim in the 60's and 70's. However, its popularity waned in the 80's, and it has become largely an overlooked classic. It is the tale of a day in the life of a young girl, rejected by and rejecting her school, used as a domestic drudge to look after her sickly mother and new baby, physically abused by her ne'er-do-well father and elder brother. Mouchette is destined never to be happy, destined never to be able to express herself but merely be the tool of others. She needs love, she needs recognition and acceptance, but she remains an outcast.
At best, she can find time to be alone, to be away from adults and their constant demands and criticisms. She has few moments of play - when a boy smiles at her, her father quickly intervenes. Alone, confused, Mouchette's life is one downward spiral, enlivened only by the odd moment when she can get one over on the adults. She finds escape in play.
An evidently bleak film, you are left wondering whether Mouchette is doomed or whether she is able, at the last, to assert control and be decisive about her life. Does she triumph at the end by taking control of her life? Or is this symbolic of spiritual weakness, of her failure to accept the fate god has marked out for her?
An intense cinematographic experience, "Mouchette" is hardly a conventional narrative. It benefits from being watched several times, giving you an opportunity to absorb the intense visual experience Bresson creates. A stunning film, though perhaps showing some sense of age, "Mouchette" deserves to be seen by a much wider public.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 19 June 2005
Robert Bresson (1901-1999) began directing in 1934 and made 13 feature films between 1943-1983, the first two during the German Occupation of France. He achieved great critical acclaim, is widely cited by many of the world's leading film makers as one of their major influences, yet his films never achieved great box office popularity. Described as 'uncompromising', Bresson was not prepared to listen to the marketing people or to sacrifice control over his own art - he made the films he wanted to make, not the ones which would earn money.
Bresson is a director who strives for visual impact - the majority of his films were shot in black and white and he probably demonstrates greater visual control in this medium than in his later, colour films. And the visual element can be emphatic - his films are often sparse in their use of dialogue while Bresson makes exaggerated use of natural sound effects (wind, rain, footsteps, creaking boards).
And Bresson uses unknown or amateur actors - no big names, no easy familiarity with the faces on the screen. Bresson wanted his audience to concentrate on the story and its emotions, even if his style might make these enigmatic, if not cryptic. He began as a painter, and often referred to his actors as 'models' - they were there to provide visual images. And his models were stripped of emotion - he didn't want them to portray emotion as a public show, but to exhibit something more transcendent.
Heavily influenced by a Catholic vision of predestination, Bresson avoids concerted effort to explore the psychology of his characters. In many of his films the characters simply accept their fate - they know they are destined to suffer and battle against an illusion of free will. Bresson's pessimism is evident, but he expressed a conviction that he saw the influence of god more clearly and potently in poverty and suffering. The struggle to resolve the conflict between freewill and destiny is, for Bresson, the essential route to spiritual fulfilment.
"Au Hasard, Balthazar" (1966) and "Mouchette" (1967) - Bresson's last black and white films - are the only ones he ever made in successive years. They are often linked together critically as the high water mark of his cinematographic skill. Themes spill over from the earlier to the later film, as if Bresson felt he needed to resolve issues of teenage alienation and the bleak future which faces a reject waif.
"Mouchette" was banned in places because of its bleak vision, but achieved immense critical acclaim in the 60's and 70's. However, its popularity waned in the 80's, and it has become largely an overlooked classic. It is the tale of a day in the life of a young girl, rejected by and rejecting her school, used as a domestic drudge to look after her sickly mother and new baby, physically abused by her ne'er-do-well father and elder brother. Mouchette is destined never to be happy, destined never to be able to express herself but merely be the tool of others. She needs love, she needs recognition and acceptance, but she remains an outcast.
At best, she can find time to be alone, to be away from adults and their constant demands and criticisms. She has few moments of play - when a boy smiles at her, her father quickly intervenes. Alone, confused, Mouchette's life is one downward spiral, enlivened only by the odd moment when she can get one over on the adults. She finds escape in play.
An evidently bleak film, you are left wondering whether Mouchette is doomed or whether she is able, at the last, to assert control and be decisive about her life. Does she triumph at the end by taking control of her life? Or is this symbolic of spiritual weakness, of her failure to accept the fate god has marked out for her?
An intense cinematographic experience, "Mouchette" is hardly a conventional narrative. It benefits from being watched several times, giving you an opportunity to absorb the intense visual experience Bresson creates. A stunning film, though perhaps showing some sense of age, "Mouchette" deserves to be seen by a much wider public.
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