Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Mouchette (1967)

Robert Bresson's sad, stark portrait of a young girl adrift in a world that, by all evidence, doesn't want her has its tone set by its opening scene, in which a bird walks into a trap and struggles while two men watch. While one man, a gamekeeper, does eventually act and free the bird, the intimation is that the delay is what Bresson is focused on and not the good intentions. If Au Hasard Balthazar signifies the genesis of a deep welling-up of pessimism within Bresson, Mouchette is that pessimism brought to full flower. The title character can be vicious and cruel in her isolation (her favorite activity is hiding by the side of the road and throwing mud at her haughty classmates), but is this inbred within her or is it a response to the indifference and castigation she endures every day? It's shown that Mouchette still has within her the capacity for gentleness and kindness (note her attempts to be a caretaker to Arsene the poacher or her using her own body to warm milk for her infant brother), yet there's very little reciprocation from those around her. When a gesture of kindness finally comes about (the dress), it's too late -- the delay has made things irreversible. Her one flash of happy times comes at a carnival where she rides the bumper cars, and it's a jarring scene, since it represents the first instance I've seen in a Bresson film that acknowledges the modern world. It's here that the unspoken thesis lies: As a song sung by Mouchette and her classmates suggests, hope for Bresson has died with the encroachment of the modern world. Hostility and distrust replace grace, and anyone unprepared is just another rabbit for the shooting (as made concrete in a late-film hunting scene that quotes the famed scene from The Rules of the Game yet contains its own force). Bresson's austerity and attention to detail has fascinated me for a while now, but here the detachment seems to stem from disgust rather than purity. As the anonymous epitaph goes, "The world to her was but a tragic play / She came, saw, dislik'd and passed away."

Grade: B+


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