Monday, August 8, 2011

#363: Mouchette

(Robert Bresson, 1967)

Here are some of the other films in the Criterion Collection that were made in 1967: Branded to Kill, Playtime, Monterey Pop, I Am Curious - Yellow, Samurai Rebellion, Le Samourai, 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her. In France, Buñuel made Belle du Jour that year, too (which is coming soon to the collection), while in America, Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate were released, beginning a new era in Hollywood.

I say all this to give a sense of what 1967 was like in film, and how out of place Mouchette must have seemed. Yet within the context of Bresson's work, there is nothing out of place here; while arguably not as great as his best work, Mouchette is just as simple and heartfelt (in, of course, a complex and technical way) as the films which defined his career. The only other filmmaker I can think of who remained so out of context was Stanley Kubrick, whose Eyes Wide Shut was released in another great year for film, 1999, but shares almost nothing in common with Election, Fight ClubMagnolia, The Straight Story, or The Matrix. Eliminate Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman from that movie, and you would have a hard time deciding if it was made in 1988 or 2006.

Similarly, Mouchette seems both behind its time and outside of it. Like other Bresson films - and other Bresson protagonists - the story here seems almost allegorical, despite the very three-dimensional characters which inhabit the tale. Yet there is also something elemental about this girl and her environment which calls to mind the neo-realists at their peak. Watching this so close to Les dames du Bois de Boulogne was a disorienting experience - rarely can you go from such early career hired gun material to late career auteur work that is so different, so devoid of any similarities except the raw talent.

Mouchette is a sad movie about a little girl who has yet to find her way. But the film's very existence is a testament to her struggle. The fact that it seems like such an unlikely artifact from its time only enhances the pariah status of its protagonist. Bresson managed to create an impressive number of quietly beautiful films like this over his career. They are films that stay with you, regardless of the time or place in which you see them - provided you can step into Bresson's unique rhythms. It's no surprise he is regarded so highly by true film enthusiasts: despite the comparisons to Ozu or Terrence Malick, there's really no other director like him.

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