Mouchette – Blu-Ray Review

Robert Bresson made Mouchette a year after Au hasard Balthazar. It’s about a young girl , the Mouchette of the title, her miserable life and all the shitty stuff that happens to her. Made in his typical minimalistic style, the cast features mainly non-professional actors. It’s deeply depressing, ad has a slightly religious aspect as is the case with many of his films—Mouchette is a saintlike innocent in a world of evil that is pretty relentlessly bleak. She is a carer for her dying mother, alcoholic father and baby brother.

The actress in the lead role, Nadine Nortier, is extraordinary, but never appeared in a film again. It was also Bresson’s final black and white film. There isn’t much dialogue, it’s all in her body language. The film is shot in very stark, minimalist black and white. His move to colour has always been very controversial, but I think some of his best films are in colour. Note: The Devil, Probably really needs a Blu-Ray release…

It’s a despairing movie about how cruel mankind is, basically, for 78 minutes. Beautifully filmed without much money, it’s one of Bresson’s very best as well as one of his bleakest. It can be seen as a companion piece to his The Trial of Joan of Arc, which he had made a few years previously. Which with Au hasard Balthasar forms a sort of trilogy about saintly young women. It’s almost plotless—just a series of episodes of abuse, ending on a very sombre note. It proves that you can make an incredibly affecting film with very few resources.The plot is actually very similar to Au hasard Balthazar, where the donkey is the put-upon central character, but this one is a bit better. There are plenty of films that try to be pessimistic, but this is more effective than that kind of manufactured miserablism.

Bresson remains one of the masters, and his movies are so short that you can see almost all of them in a day—although you’ll be pretty depressed at the end.

The Criterion release includes a new 4K digital restoration on Blu-Ray, plus an archival audio commentary by film scholar Tony Rayns and Au hasard Bresson, a contemporary documentary about the director partly made on the set of Mouchette. Also featured are an episode of French TV show Cinéma with on-set interviews with Bresson, Nortier and Jean-Claude Gilbert, who played a villager who has evil plans for Mouchette; the original trailer, which was edited by Jean-Luc Godard; and an essay by film critic/poet Robert Polito.

★★★★★

Ian Schultz

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