1967Director: Robert Bresson
I felt a strong affinity with Bernanos' and Bresson's Mouchette. It's a film I would have liked to have made myself... Mouchette is as clear as daylight. It's a pure work of art. The religious motif only comes in for a moment, before the titles, as one sees the girl sitting there crying, and she says - "How will they manage without me?" How are you to manage without the saint, without the person who bears your sufferings? Just for a moment - and then all the rest of the film is completely undogmatic.
- Ingmar Bergman, Bergman on Bergman, New York, 1973
Like his earlier film based on a book by Bernanos, Journal d'un Curé de Campagne, Mouchette was a commission for Bresson, not his own choice. It had already appealed to other filmmakers: Godard almost made it the basis of his first film... Unlike the faithful representation of the earlier book, Bresson's film is a free adaptation of the Nouvelle Histoire de Mouchette. Another interesting departure from his earlier practice of reproducing as strictly as possible the authentic setting of his subject was his choice of Provence for the location of Mouchette rather than the northern village of the book. The lyricism of the images afforded by the southern countryside contrasts sharply with the harshness of the young girl's isolation and defiance, and the almost unwitting cruelty with which she is treated.
Bresson's problem was to present the story without softening it and yet without making it unbearable. He treats the incidents with more richness of detail than had been his earlier austere practice, allowing a few rare glimpses of psychological motivation. Yet it is the restraint and economy of his method, together with the sense he imparts of grace won through suffering, that saves the film from being a hopeless indictment of the human condition, and makes it a deeply moving work.
- Liz-Anne Bawden (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Film, London, 1976
Of all Bresson's works Mouchette is the most affecting. This poor child is Joan of Arc without Joan's advantage - a burning faith to support her in the terrible circumstances in which she finds herself... From a bald description of this film it would be difficult to receive an impression other than of inspissated gloom and despair. It is a measure of Bresson's genius that somehow he succeeds, in the person of poor Mouchette, in celebrating life.
- Basil Wright, The Long View, London, 1974
Mouchette drives straight as an arrow towards its inevitable end in Mouchette's abdication from life. Everything is said in the opening sequences as, watched over tormentedly by Mouchette's dying mother, an anonymous hand stealthily sets a snare and a trapped partridge fights stubbornly, painfully, tightening the noose which will strangle it. It only remains for Mouchette to fulfil her destiny by struggling against the snare which poverty and indifference have set for her...
Mouchette is a masterpiece: a Bresson film pure and simple with its extraordinary correspondences between sound and gesture to evoke the unspoken and the unseen. No one but Bresson, for instance, could have conceived that extraordinary dialogue between hands, veiled eyes and inanimate objects which pinpoints the triangle relationship between Arsène, Louisa and the gamekeeper. And no one but Bresson, surely, could have imagined the extraordinary ritual of the ending, which offers Mouchette three chances of salvation but leaves her to find her own grace in death.
The real importance of Mouchette, however, is that it confirms a new departure in Bresson's work which began with Balthazar. Always a solitary figure, the Bresson hero has hitherto lived apart, in a world almost of his creation, isolated not only by circumstances but by his own nature. With Mouchette, Bresson describes a different kind of solitude: one which exists within the world rather than apart from it, and which is resisted rather than courted.
- Jan Dawson, Sight & Sound, Summer 1968
Bresson's Mouchette, by about three hundred miles the most touching and truly professional film in the [1967 New York] festival, is about a fourteen year old girl of the peasant class, living in a small French village, the daughter of two alcoholics. The film has apparently melted down to a short story, being adapted from a Bernanos novel, but it moves on about five levels. It has to do with the surpassing beauty of a girl who is in a state of excruciating physical discomfort. On another level, it is about difficulty, an almost pure analysis of its sides and, in this case, the way it multiplies when luck is out. Other levels deal with a particularly bitter village and its inhabitants (the snare theme, life chasing the human being into extinction); the conception of people as being so deeply rooted in their environment that they are animal-like: the simple effect of a form briefly lit by a truck's headlights.
Mouchette, played by Nadine Nortier, has a touching toughness, the crushing sense of not expecting anything from anybody, and a harrowing know-how about every niche of village life. Nortier's singularity is tied to painful appearances: apathetic about her well-being, hair uncombed and probably lice-ridden, a large part of the painfulness has to do with large lumpy legs, stockings that won't stay up, big shoes. Despite all these humiliations, she is never cartoony and has an enormous, sombre dignity.
Some of the most important things movies can do are in this film. The barmaid, for instance: a queer and singular girl, as muscular as she is narrow, her character, which has tons of integrity and stubbornness, is just barely caught: through a crowd of locals, from an off-angle, pinning up the top flap of her apron, drying the glasses. The role is backed into through gesture and spirit, rather than through direct portrayal. Then there is the great device of placing Mouchette's house on a truck route, and milking that device for the most awesome, mysterious wonders. Also, for a film that is unrelievedly raw, homely, and depressed, it seems a wild perversity to bloom for five minutes into sudden elation with Mouchette and a likeably acted boy riding some dodgems at a fair. After so many misused amusement parks in film, it is remarkable to come across one that works.
- Manny Farber, Negative Space, London, 1971