ART FILM OF THE WEEK
In Robert Bresson’s second Georges Bernanos adaptation (Diary of a Country Priest being the first), he again uses no professional actors and his signature stark realism in full force. He follows the young, troubled teenaged girl Mouchette (Nadine Nortier) through the worst days of her life. Her mother is on her deathbed, her father is a bitter alcoholic, and her schoolmates treat her as a reviled outsider. Mouchette lives in a small, rural French town, and all of her depressing drawbacks have given her anguished blues.
Bresson relishes in close-ups and, in contrast, commonly depicts his characters from the neck down, intentionally cutting off their heads in the frame. Following Mouchette around in her amalgam of pent-up emotions is a quiet and unsettling event. A large duration of the film’s audio track is presented through offscreen sound effects, with dialogue used sparsely.
At school, Mouchette’s stress is too much for her to bear and she refuses to sing in choir until forced by her unsympathetic teacher; one can clearly see echoes of Mouchette in Todd Solondz’s Welcome to the Dollhouse. After school, the teen hides in a ditch and pelts rocks and dirt at her classmates. The narrative, which covers a short amount of temporal unity, utilizes elliptical gaps at each fade-out in order to construct an impressionistic structural formalism.
In a fever-dream montage of carnival bumper cars, Mouchette discovers short-lived joy through love for an older boy, which is a great contrast to her demeanor in the rest of the film. Her father slaps in her in the face, however, and the boy is lost forever.
Another day after school, Mouchette wanders off the road and into the woods, soon seeking shelter from the pouring rain. Meanwhile, a gamekeeper and a poacher get into an inevitable tussle. The poacher escapes the fight and finds Mouchette wet and alone in the woods. Together, the two retreat to a cabin, where the poacher loses his mind wondering if he murdered the gamekeeper during his drunken stupor.
As the poacher passes out, Mouchette delicately sings to him. He awakens to declare that the girl is his prisoner, and after thrashing around the cabin in pursuit of his evasive target, he knocks Mouchette down to rape her. After the assault, Mouchette escapes, returning to an unwelcome home where she experiences the sadness of her aftermath of victimhood. In the same night, her mother passes away from an undiagnosed sickness.
In the morning, Mouchette is delirious from the previous night’s horrors. Even though she was the rape victim, the townspeople treat her as a whore. She is so confused that she begins to believe that her rapist cares for her. To end the pain, she commits suicide in the most realistic and indifferent manner that has probably ever been caught on celluloid.
Bresson is uncompromising in his tale of feminine injustice. Jean-Luc Godard (though he wouldn’t admit to it at the time) made a trailer for the Cannes Golden Palm winning film, which advertises the picture as “Christian and sadistic.” This evaluation is truthful, yet God is indifferent to the plight of this pastoral tragedy, according to Bresson.