Friday, March 04, 2011

Robret Bresson's Mochette (1967)


Bresson is a unique filmmaker. He didn't use professional actors. He insisted upon calling his actors "models" becuase they were not real actors. He didn't use much dialoague and shrugged off establishing shots and other techniques that are the ABC's of American film making. It is said that when Ingrid Bergman made her first film for Rossolini (who would become her husband, the two produced Isabella Rossolini ) she told him "this is my best side" he said "what? what best side what are the talking about?" The best side, the side to film a movie star from was standard first principle of Hollywood, but not used in Europe. Even standards used by European films Bresson did not use. He cuts off actors heads in the shot and focuses on objects in their hands.

I was never really aware of him until recently. The first Bresson film I saw Pick Pocket and that was a couple of weeks ago. He's now become one of my favorite film makers. He's always drawn to the films about those who do not fit in.


Robert Bresson


Georges Bernanos (novel), Robert Bresson (scenario & adaptation and dialogue)

Cast overview:
Nadine Nortier Nadine Nortier ...
Jean-Claude Guilbert Jean-Claude Guilbert ...
Marie Cardinal Marie Cardinal ...
Mouchette's Mother
Paul Hebert Paul Hebert ...
Mouchette's Father
Jean Vimenet Jean Vimenet ...
Mathieu - gamekeeper
Marie Susini Marie Susini ...
Mathieu's wife
Liliane Princet Liliane Princet ...
Suzanne Huguenin Suzanne Huguenin ...
Marine Trichet Marine Trichet ...
Raymonde Chabrun Raymonde Chabrun

This is not a happy making movie. "Houseboat" or "the Flying Nun" it is not. No one in the world of this tragic fourteen year old girls is supportive of her. She is alone, she burdened and she comes to a bad end. The film opens with her mother in chruch praying and asking God what will be left of me when I'm not here, how will my children survive? That's the "theme" if there can be said to be a theme, the question the film asks: what is left of people in the hole the leaven in the fabric of society when they go? The next we see the mother she is she is in bed dying. We are never really told (or I may have missed it) what she dies of. She can barely speak, she can't get up. The daughter has accepted the role of mother both to her mother and to her siblings, one of whom is an infant. She is pushed around by her father who has no concern for her. He drives a truck that sells bootlegged liquor. He flops on his bed and pretends to drive using his hat as a steering wheel, making "vrooom vrooom" noises. This is the driector's way of showing that he is in a world of his own and doesn't care that his wife is dying or that his children are growing up with no support.

The basic immorality of the village is demonstrated in the illicit relationships of several of hte characters. The cops turn a blind eye to the father's bootlegging. They don't even care when it's in front of their faces. The economy of the village is based upon corruption. The major relations ships of the film consist of a feud between a poucher (Arsene) and a game keeper (Mathieu). They both love and compete with each other for Louisa. They are also locked in a struggle of their occupations which are opposed ot each other. The first shot after the mother in the chruch is of the game keeper watching the poacher snare partridges. Then the poacher watches from the bushes as the game keeper sets them free. We have a relationship based upon hatred, enmity, competition and on both levels subterfuge and dishonesty. This is a metaphor for the girl's life. She is the partridge being snared and killed by these two men.

We see Mouchette for the first time in school. the Children are singing a little song about Columbus and how he gave hope to his men. The girl refuses to sing. She punished but wont give in. She's filled with anger and rejects hope offered by the hypocrisy of the institution that helps to hold her back. Latter she is caught in a thunderstrom walking back from school and takes shelter in the woods. The Poucher finds her, having just had a confrontation in the rain and the woods with the game keeper. He thinks he's killed the game keeper, but he hasn't. He illicits an alibi form the girls, who seems willing to help. We can infer from the way they interact that even though she's afraid of him they have a history together, but it's not a good history. He takes her back to his cabin and rapes her.

The next day her mother dies. Rather than be sympathetic, the villagers are much more concerned that she doesn't have her crucifix and that somehow makes her a slut. The game keeper and his wife cross examine her becuase they are concerned what will furnish an alibi to the Arsene. The woman at the little village store tries to befriend her but winds up calling her a slut.She is extremely angry and has a confrontation with an old woman who gives her a shroud for her mother. She takes the shroud and rips to pieces, then she wraps herself in it and rolls down a long hill. the shroud comes off she rolls into a lake, goes under water and never comes up.

Bresson could be of any persuasion and one might, seeing this and other films, assume he's a secular person, perhaps even an atheist. He seems not to care about the issue of religion. Religion serves no real postive role in this film, and is not seen much in it. One scene where is pushed by her father and reaches into the font to bless herself with holy water. Then cut immediately to a scene where she is at her job in the bar where she is soaked from the sink of dishes. Bresson always links shots by immediate cuts so we know this is meant to be a contrast between the holy font and the bar room sink. She has a drop of holy water, she is immersed practically in "sin" water (if the bar's dish wash water can metaphorically suffice as such).

Yet Bresson, on the special material after the film, (DVD) in an interview says he is a believer. He was a life long Catholic and he was from a very prudish form of French Catholocism called "Jansenist." Those were the guys that Pascal was with. They were the puritons of French Catholicism. Yet the film could have been made by an atheist or just a completely secularist. Bresson says he would not want a summary of the film becuase if it could be summarize it would be terrible. I understand this to mean that a summary of what happens sounds really depression and as though the film has no value but is just a depression session. I find it inspiring in a horrible way. It's the dark side of the sublime. Bresson knows that great art doesn't preach and that there doesn't have to be a little moral message from everything. Not trying to read in a "moral" I can, however, consult my internal resonance meter. What resonates with me is the honest appraisal of adult relationships and how they can poison childhood. The chruch in this film is just an unfeeling institution that offers false hope. It's false because it's not offered well. The children are thought they must have hope being forced to sing about hope. The little girl who refuses to play hypocrite and sing is offered no hope.

Not to formulate a moral but just reflect upon what I glean from the film it demonstrates the effects of sin upon society and the individual; the poisoning of relationships and lives. How does this relate to the mother's question? What is left of the girl but a memory of a life that was never given a chance? A misunderstanding about the character of a victim.

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