Saturday, January 2, 2010

Mouchette---icy winds of youth

*Robert Bresson*1967*France*80m*

Mouchette means "little fly" in French.

The stark story of the sufferings of a teenage girl, Mouchette, living with her invalid mother and alcoholic father in a french country town. She is the object of ill treatment and suppression both at home and in the school and sinks into defiant dejection. Things come to a head when she is caught in a downpour in a lonely wood and accosted by a poacher.

The words "austere" and "spiritual" are often applied to this director. Spiritual is a vague and emasculated term because it often has shades of escapism and wishy-washy theorizing about things it is no use worrying about. The present movie is  humane and compassionate and a story of childhood and it's dignity and sensitivity, as well as the lack of mercy of human society as it is presently constituted, which in it's essentials does not seem very different in mid-century rural Europe as it is where we stand now.

Austerity of course may refers to his characteristic minimal style of direction and non-acting. Bresson's actors are expressly forbidden to "act", to make any "effort" to express. We see what seem to be dead-pan faces. But then, the emotion in the script and story is so authentic that this suppression comes through all the more powerfully. When we feel nothing, we act. What we feel too much, we need to hide. But the heart is omniscient: there's no fooling it.

Mouchette is a normal youngster of twelve or thirteen but all the desires and joy of childhood are crushed by the non-accepting, crushing and hostile forces in the shape of peers, teachers, family and the neighborhood.

In some powerful shots, we see tears of humiliation and anger streaming down her cheeks while no muscle of the face moves and no sound of a sob is able to emerge. The dams within have burst. It is as though a sculpture has burst into tears. The eyes have to do the talking.

In a moving sequence, when for once she has enjoyed herself at the fair and is about to make an innocent overture of friendship to a boy, she is rudely pulled back by her dissolute father and slapped in the middle of the fair and in front of the boy. This is the limit of indignity, and we see her silently crying as she pulls away. She is a child, like a million others everywhere from whom childhood has been snatched away. She has nothing and no one to hold on to.

What kind of person is she? Very ordinary, very normal. She has a strong self, a healthy sense of dignity, feelings of love, anger and hate. She will grow up into a responsible and beautiful individual. But alas, the gusts of adversity have come too early and too strong, little fly that she is, and she has had no chance to develop  commensurate inner resilience. She has no anchor. Not even the sick mother. No one is an island--once adrift from the main, we wither and shrink.

I certainly look forward to seeing more of Bresson.

A wonderful film.

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