God and the Girl: The 1967 French Film, “Mouchette”

The Robert Bresson picture, Mouchette (1967), is an adaptation of a short novel by Georges Bernanos.  

The novel, a successful one, is about a preteen French girl living in harsh, awful surroundings.  Dirt poor Mouchette is disliked by her peers and has an insensitive, criminal father and a dying mother.  Worse, she is eventually raped by an epileptic poacher.  It is easy to suspect she is en route to becoming a wicked young adult, but after hearing from an old woman, a layer-out of the dead, that the dead used to be worshipped as gods and that the woman herself  “understands” the dead, Mouchette decides to drown herself.  She escapes a hopeless world by dispatching herself to a realm where the dead are not merely dead, to God’s realm.

It is no surprise that the Catholic-born Bresson would be drawn to filming another Bernanos novel after directing Diary of a Country Priest many years earlier.  However, what he does with his customarily nonprofessional actors seriously harms Mouchette.  He insists on their being dry and undemonstrative, which of course means they’re histrionically sleepwalking.  It doesn’t work.  The film doesn’t work—it’s unconvincing—although certain shots and details are meaningful, even spiritually so.  That is, they have a “religious” power, such as the shot of the pond, and the simultaneous Magnificat music (by Monteverdi), where Mouchette’s suicide occurs.  We feel sure the Deity’s grace has reached this unsaved, terribly oppressed child.  Bresson’s movie could have been a winner, but a few things for which we can be grateful do characterize it.

(In French with English subtitles.)

Mouchette stands at the gate of the rides of t...

Mouchette stands at the gate of the rides of the fair, looking at the people in the rides. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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