Mouchette (Robert Bresson, 1967)

It’s not easy being Mouchette, and by god Robert Bresson wants you to know it.  There’s very little spoken dialogue in this film, instead relying on unsettling sound effects or the looks of pained discomfort on young Mouchette’s face, or the halting movements of all the miserable people in this god-forsaken town.  It’s an impressive feat to have so much of your film be dominated by faces or sounds or movements rather than words, and I admired Bresson’s ability to tell a more or less coherent story almost exclusively by utilizing our senses of sight and hearing (I got a little confused here and there when it came to just who all the adult characters were and why they wanted to kill each other, it seems, but that’s a small complaint).  But my god, did “Mouchette” need to feel that morbid?  Yeah, I get it, Mouchette’s a miserable young girl: impoverished, dying mother, uncaring father, taunted at school by peers and teachers alike, painfully shy, sexually harassed by neighborhood boys, and on and on.  The misery that Mouchette feels on a daily basis is palpable, making for an unsettling experience, but for pete’s sake, there’s only so many shots of Mouchette sitting in the woods in the pouring rain with a sad face, or walking through town with a sad face, or looking at her decrepit mother and helpless baby sibling with a sad face (though Bresson’s little tease using staging to trick us into thinking that Mouchette’s about to breast feed that baby is really unsettling…), that I can take without saying enough is enough, we get that this girl’s miserable, quit shoving it down our throats.  Things get a little less monotonous during and after her encounter with a man looking to use her as an alibi following a killing one night, in a tense scene where she stands up to this man and yet is incredibly intimidated at the same time, and sexual tension between an unexpectedly seizure-prone degenerate and a quiet, prepubescent girl is very disturbing.  Mouchette has an awakening after this eventful night, and matures before our eyes, as seen in a scene at home with the mother and baby that’s excellent in its pacing and Mouchette’s actions.  Mouchette never abandons her introversion and remains an outcast until the end, and tragically so, but she still matures through trial by fire during a night where a young girl experiences things no girl her age should experience.  We observe that maturation almost solely through mannerisms and sounds rather than being told about it, and I commend that, but to get through that, we have to wade through way too much exposition and character build-up and symbolism (I mean, bookending the film with long, wordless scenes of a man hunting first a bird and then a rabbit to symbolize the feeling that the eyes of the world are on Mouchette and her plight is hopeless?  I mean, that really isn’t too obvious?), and that’s in a film that’s only an hour and 15 minutes long!  Good performance by young Nadine Nortier as the girl with far too many emotional scars, but I dunno, all that exposition and collective moments of misery shared by the eternally morose Mouchette and eternally morose…well, everyone else, just felt so disingenuous and forced.



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