Mouchette (1967)

Dir: Robert Bresson, 1967, with Nadine Nortier, at the British Film Institute

Unintentionally, I find myself watching back to back two films about girls in desperate circumstances: American Honey yesterday and Mouchette today.

I don’t think I’ll be searching out another Bresson film in a hurry, for all his reputation. After some consideration, I am willing to admit that Mouchette may not be quite as dire as it seemed while I watched it – but a film about a village schoolgirl so abused and ostracised that suicide is the best option is always going to be hard work, and Bresson’s idiosyncratic – almost amateurish – film style just makes it more difficult. In retrospect I can appreciate the themes and parallels within the film.  I was reminded of my reaction to the first Zola novel I read – Germinal – when I was astonished that suffering and corruption could be portrayed so relentlessly and directly in the 19th century. (La Terre is even grimmer.) I was used to the oblique references and scathing satire of Dickens, which are a form of bowdlerisation. Also recollections of those overwrought Guy de Maupassant stories we had to read for A level.

Comparisons between Mouchette and American Honey are interesting. Both directors used non-professionals who caught their eyes; American Honey dwelt on creatures being freed from their cages, whereas in Mouchette animals were trapped and killed; both girls ended their films submerged in water – but only one of them re-emerged; and both directors use lengthy shots and odd framing as part of their film-making.

Postscript: Mouchette herself seemed to live in a timeless rural hellhole. But modern life – represented by noisy lorries and the searching headlights on the road outside her hovel – didn’t appear to offer her anything better.

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