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Criterion Collection: Mouchette [Import USA Zone 1]
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Emission "Sur le tournage de Mouchette de Robert Bresson" (26 janvier 1967 - 7')
Interview de Robert Bresson par la télévision belge (1966 - 7'30")
Description du produit
Description du produit
Mouchette, 1 DVD, 95 minutes
Mouchette è un'adolescente di quattordici anni che vive col fratello ancora in fasce e i genitori intristiti dall'alcool e dagli stenti, in un paese agricolo della Provenza. Perennemente derisa e umiliata dagli adulti e dai coetanei, Mouchette reagisce come può con dispetti infantili. Un giorno, al ritorno da scuola, Mouchette viene sorpresa da un temporale mentre attraversa un bosco e viene soccorsa da Arsène, un bracconiere, che la conduce al riparo nella sua capanna. L'uomo confessa a Mouchette di aver ucciso il guardiacaccia. La ragazza accetta di aiutarlo a crearsi un alibi e lo cura amorevolmente quando ha una crisi di epilessia, ma poi, passata la crisi Arsène approfitta di lei. Mouchette torna a casa per confidarsi con la madre, ma gli eventi prendono una piega tragica: la madre muore e la ragazza resta vittima dei pettegolezzi delle donne del paese. --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.
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Pourtant, elle est l’incarnation de vertus chrétiennes comme la pauvreté et l’innocence. La pureté de ses sentiments est admirablement illustrée dans la séquence de la kermesse avec ses autos-tamponneuses.
Dans son récit ‘Cet Eté-là’, Marie Cardinal (qui joue la mère dans ce film) brosse un portrait de Bresson, qui est loin d'être hagiographique : un homme insupportable, inhumain et cafouilleux. Néanmoins, dans son style sobre, (apparemment) sans passion et loin des grands gestes théâtraux, Robert Bresson a créé un chef-d’œuvre saisissant. Il stigmatise d’une manière féroce la communauté humaine, qui bafoue et conspue sans la moindre pitié les démunis.
A voir absolument.
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Both films are set in the French countryside and address the poverty of village life in a direct and accusatory manner that provoked French audiences upon first release. Mouchette in particular caused consternation with its story of a poor teenage girl (the Mouchette of the title) who endures a miserable existence, one which she can escape in the end only by killing herself. Apparently, in the world according to Robert Bresson death is preferable to life in a French village and the outrage caused by the film's release is understandable, especially when the parents of Nadine Nortier (the girl who plays Mouchette) complained long and loud about Bresson's usage of their daughter.
Like the poor donkey Balthazar, Mouchette is forced to negotiate the 7 Stations of the Cross on the way to her Calvary - her final redemption and her attainment of grace. The Biblical Passion-like allegory of Au hasard Balthazar is made very obvious by the donkey being born in a barn and undergoing a journey rife with obvious (and many not so obvious) references to the gospels. In Mouchette, the parallels are less clear, but anyone who has seen Au hasard will grasp that we are dealing with exactly the same territory. The donkey went through 7 owners in his negotiation of the Cross from birth to death. We come into Mouchette's life 15 years after her birth and find her Stations of the Cross consist of dealing with the various tormentors that surround her. She has to look after her dying mother (Marie Cardinal) and tend for her baby sibling. She has to deal with the bullying of her alcoholic bootlegger father (Paul Hebert) who treats her like a piece of his property. She has to suffer the humiliation of her school teacher who reduces her to tears by forcing her to sing in tune in front of class. She is used as an alibi by the tramp Arsène (Jean-Claude Guilbert who plays virtually the same role in Au hasard - the only Bresson model to appear in more than one of his films) to escape a murder charge before being raped by him. She has to suffer an inquisition by the gamekeeper Mathieu (Jean Vimenet) and his wife as to why she stayed overnight with Arsène in his hovel and is pushed into a confession to having been sexually violated. Then after her mother's death she has to suffer the stares of nosy village neighbors - the shopkeeper who gives her coffee to satisfy her prying curiosity, a pious undertaker who gives her a sheet to wrap her mother's corpse in for the funeral and then boys who flash her in the street for fun. `Mouchette' is a colloquial French word meaning `little fly' and that is exactly how she is treated by everyone around her. It's difficult to think of a character in another film who suffers like Mouchette. Like Balthazar and of course like Jesus Christ Himself, she takes on her suffering for the sake of us all. Of all the models that appear for Robert Bresson, Nadine Nortier gives a 'performance' (if that's what we can call it - it's more like a luminous `presence') which is the most heart-breaking of all. Once you have seen this film and have empathized with Mouchette, her face will stay with you forever.
I have highlighted similarities between Bresson's two pastoral masterpieces, but in two radical ways they are very different. Firstly, Balthazar is an animal and is therefore `pure' and `innocent', the cruelties of man being refracted through him to the soft sounds of Schubert. Mouchette is an adolescent girl, and though she is innocent to a degree, she is also tough and answers insults with insolence. As per usual Bresson isn't interested in the psychology of how she is a victim of her social environment. Rather he continues with his Jansenist predestinarian belief that her fate has already been decided and she will gain redemption irrespective of whether she is `good' or `bad'. Therefore, Bresson doesn't hesitate to strip her character of any kind of sentimentality to make a film which is as harsh as any I have ever seen. Almost all the bad things that happen to her are answered back by Mouchette in kind. She insults her father when she goes out to find milk against his orders. She throws mud at her classmates who bully her. She refuses to sing for her teacher - at first we think the teacher is bullying her, but later we find out she can sing the same song perfectly well at home and was just being insolent earlier. She at first fights Arsène's sexual advances before seeming to acquiesce to them (watch her hands caress his back). She throws back the shopkeeper's charity in her face, she grinds mud into the undertaker's carpet and then finally she thumbs her nose at God Himself by self-destructing - remember suicide is forbidden by the Catholic Church. And yet, as the beautiful Monteverdi music (the Magnificat from the 1610 Vespers) tells us, she attains grace nevertheless. Mouchette is no innocent angel in Bresson's hands and her suffering (and how she makes others suffer in return) routes her very firmly in the reality of French country life. In this sense she becomes less like Balthazar and more like Marie, the heroine of Au Hasard who undergoes a comparable decline albeit without exhibiting any of Mouchette's insolence.
The second difference lies in the different narrative structures of the two films. Au hasard is Bresson at his most elliptical. A myriad of stories take place around the donkey. As he suffers we are propelled forward in time over a number of years with quite extraordinary swiftness. The complexity of the narrative is awe-inspiring in how much Bresson manages to squeeze into 90 minutes. By contrast Mouchette is extremely simple. The action takes place over just a few days and the story of Mouchette's victimization is rendered straight and direct in the manner of a Biblical parable. Au hasard has us casting around, playing detective to spot the clues to piece together the various stories that occur while Mouchette is built out of very clearly defined scenes which are precisely designed with impeccable balance to chart the girl's advance towards redemption.
The film opens with a monologue delivered straight to camera by Mouchette's mother sitting in a chair. She says "What will become of them without me? I can feel it in my breast. It's like a stone inside". On one level 'them' means her family and 'it' is the cancer that is killing her. But the fact that we don't know who this character is yet, that she rises after speaking to reveal her to be in a church, and that the camera remains fixed on the empty chair as the credits play to the Monteverdi on the soundtrack would appear to suggest a much more universal meaning to her words. Could she represent the Virgin Mary (everyone's Mother) so that 'them' means everyone living in the village (in the world?) and 'it' is the cancer (the evil) killing off society around them? Without belief in God and the existence of the love of man for man society is in danger of extinction.
It is this endangered society which Bresson goes on to depict throughout the film. Notice the framing sequences depicting hunting both immediately after the opening credits and immediately before Mouchette's suicide. The gamekeeper Mathieu is ostensibly trying to stop Arsène poaching on (presumably) private property. Actually they are both dueling with each other for the attentions of the local barmaid Luisa (Marine Trichet). She is presented by Bresson as what Mouchette would turn into in the future, another woman who is hunted, spied on and trapped by a patriarchal society. Women are the objects of the hunt, not the animals.
Bresson's perception of women being at the mercy of a patriarchal society (the hunt) is crystallized beautifully in the key fairground sequence which happens one Sunday morning after a church service. Mouchette leaves her father boozing away at his café table to play on the dodgems. There she encounters (in a brilliantly edited, wonderfully lyrical little scene) a young man. They enjoy bashing into each others' cars. Then something miraculous happens. Mouchette smiles! It is like the sun bursting through dark and oppressive clouds. Encouraged, she approaches the man who is now standing at a shooting gallery (more hunting!) still wearing the same shy smile. Immediately the smile is wiped off her face by the harsh slap of her father who pushes her back into her place at the table sitting by his side. Tears silently roll. It is a devastating truly heart-breaking moment - one of the very greatest in all of Bresson's films. The director doesn't stop there either, for at the same time we have Mathieu again trying to come on to Luisa in the bar (while his wife sits outside!) and then jealously watching her take a ride with Arsène on another of the fairground attractions. Bresson here gives us another hunting ground with men controlling (or seeking to control) the women around them. We realize Luisa is a grown-up version of Mouchette and that Mouchette's situation will never change if she doesn't leave the village. But the village is her world and leaving it is a step beyond her capability. All she can do is yield to self-sacrifice. This is the sickness of the patriarchal society which Bresson depicts in his film. At the end as Mouchette wanders into the forest after losing her mother she observes more rabbits being hunted. Harsh gunshots ring out as if they are being fired at her and the parallel with her own suffering is obvious.
The ending is unbearably harsh and depressing, and yet Bresson gives it an astonishing sense of spiritual purity by having Mouchette wrap herself in the shroud meant for her dead mother, by having the sun shine gloriously down on a beautiful scene by the brook, by having her wave (seemingly hopefully) at a farmer on a tractor in a moment of almost clichéd pastoral tranquility and then by the concluding burst of Monteverdi after she splashes into the water. Her soul has ascended to heaven and we are left gutted but exhilarated - that is the sign of quintessential Robert Bresson.
Bresson didn't stay hopeful for long however. Mouchette was his last b/w film and the last which has its main character achieve a firm sense of grace. The misanthropy evidenced in parts of Au hazard and most of Mouchette becomes all-pervasive in the color films that follow as Bresson seems to give up on the condition of his fellow man for good. Characters still engage on an unknowing search for spiritual release, for redemption as per their predestined fate, but this will only be found in acts of suicide or of anti-social violence. For example, in the director's bleak and desolate final film L'argent (1983) one disenchanted man axes a whole family to death in the name of spiritual release and Bresson posits the resulting imprisonment and possible capital punishment as the agents of his redemption.
Mouchette is a tough film, depressing and uplifting in equal measure. Not everyone will be prepared for Bresson's brutality, but the film is a masterpiece and one of the director's key works. As I have said earlier, I recommend watching Au hasard Balthazar first before you see it. You will appreciate Mouchette's plight (and the Christ-like parallels between the donkey and the girl) all the more for it. This is a review of the Nouveaux Pictures release which features decent visual quality (aspect ratio 16:9) and adequate sound. There are some problems related to the way the print has been digitally remastered especially in dark scenes where ghosting becomes noticeable. I see Artificial Eye have reissued it recently and that some recommend that transfer for making the very most out of Ghislain Cloquet's extraordinary photography - of all Bresson's films this is perhaps the most beautiful to look at. However, both this and the AE release have no extras. I find that disappointing - surely such a masterpiece deserves a scholarly commentary as well as a thoughtful documentary to bring this elusive director's work more clearly in front of the public eye. For the ideal presentation you can turn to the Criterion region 1 version which features a commentary by the ever-reliable Tony Rayns, a 30 minute documentary (with footage of the great director in action!), the original trailer cut by Jean-Luc Godard and on-set interviews with Bresson, Nortier and Guilbert. However that version is expensive and you will need a multi-region player to see it. The Criterion Robert Polito essay is at least offered gratis on line. Whichever version you choose, this film has to be seen.
Mouchette is the touching, sad story of a 14 year old girl who is truly and ‘outsider’. She is scorned at school, friendless, poor, struggling to cope with with a dying mother who demands mothering herself, a baby bother she has to do almost all the care-taking for, and angry drunkard of a father. Mouchette has understandably retreated within herself, attempting to cut off her emotions, although her tears sometimes come through (tears that I will admit distracted me by looking slightly phony, like a make up effect.)
Ultimately the girl walks away from it all for a night. She has a complex nighttime encounter with a drunk, epileptic and possibly dangerous poacher that changes her deeply. Suddenly she is more aware of the world around her, her own burgeoning sexuality, how people treat her, each other and the natural world. Her tears come more freely. All of this leads to an ending that is both moving, and just slightly mysterious in the way it is shot. '
I was never bored, always interested, and touched. But I wasn’t as deeply effected as most professional critics and film-writers seemed to be, nor did the underlying ideas feel that complex, or hard to decipher. That said, as with all Bresson's deceptively simple work, I could well see my reaction being even stronger on a 2nd viewing.
More importantly the extras on this Criterion edition contain a brilliant commentary that explains Breason's links with surrealist and sexual sadist thinkers like George Bataille. I'd have enjoyed to hear more expounded on about this. I've always suspected it as Bresson was friends with Pierre Kosslowski his brother (the brilliant painter) Balthus and Pierre was an intellectual who's focus and primary interests were DeSade and other sexual sadists. Those two brothers were also friends with George Bataille. So I had always assumed there was some kind of link-in addition Pierre actually appeared as a priest in Au Hazard Balthazar (also the full first name of Balthus, the painter and brother of Pierre). All of which naturally made me presuppose. But I never heard or read anything supporting this.
Lastly, there are some excellent documentary supplements with Bresson working with his actors and technicians. Something that is extremely hard to come by.
For all these things along, it's worth the price of this disc.