Mar 8, 2011

13th March 2011; Robert Bresson's Mouchette

A film by Robert Bresson
Country: France
French with English subtitles
Runtime:78 minutes
13th March 2011; 5.45 pm
Perks Mini Theater, Perks School

Robert Bresson's film, made in 1967, understands the sensitivity of those who have no friends. Mouchette is a girl from an impoverished family. Her mother is dying of cancer. Her father physically abuses her. When the baby cries, she is expected to clean him and feed him. At school, smarter girls tease her for wearing clogs and being a peasant. When she earns money at the tavern for doing odd jobs, her father pockets it. She has nothing.
Bresson's use of spare and minimal camera work serves a greater purpose than to merely provide a signature style. From the extreme close-ups of the opening scene, showing only Arsene and Mathieu's (Jean Vimenet) eyes, to the headless shots of people in the bar, Bresson creates a metaphor for the fractured soul. Mouchette is profoundly alone, incomprehensibly searching for connection and acceptance, but is answered with betrayal and violence.
Bresson always forces the viewer to construct his own, individual diegesis. Bresson argued that when we experience immediate events in our everyday lives, there is no causality. A causal understanding of experience is only produced later, upon reflection.
Bresson wanted the audience to have this direct causal-construction experience with his film narratives, and for this reason he didn’t want his actors (which he preferred to call “models”) to inject their own interpretive causal renderings in their roles.
Mouchette is one of the purest Bressons. Mouchette so abused by everyone in her village that death seems like God's caress, and so maladroit that she must try three times before she succeeds in drowning herself. Its effect as you watch it is beautifully unforgiving; as you recall it, brutally radiant.

Robert Bresson

Robert Bresson’s 13 features over 40 years constitute arguably the most original and brilliant body of work over a long career from a film director in the history of cinema. He is the most idiosyncratic and uncompromising of all major filmmakers, in the sense that he always tried to create precisely what he wanted without surrendering to considerations of commerce, audience popularity, or people’s preconceptions of what cinema should be. And although it might be argued that his venture into colour from Une Femme douce (1969) onwards was probably against his better judgement, he shows mastery in its use.

Born in central France and educated in Paris, Bresson’s early ambition was to be a painter. He ventured into filmmaking with the short Les Affaires publiques (1934), a satire with nods to Clair and Vigo, which was rediscovered in the 1980s after being thought lost. After a year or so as a prisoner-of-war he was approached by a Paris priest with a proposal for a film about the Bethany order of nuns, which became Les Anges du péché (1943). His next feature was also made during the Occupation, and filmmaking had by then definitely supplanted painting. The confusion over his date of birth, symbolic perhaps of his reclusive nature, caused reviewers of his final filmL’Argent (1983) to marvel over how a man "in his late 70s" or alternatively "in his 80s" could show such youthful exuberance in his filmmaking.

Three formative influences in Bresson’s life undoubtedly mark his films: his Catholicism, which took the form of the predestinarian French strain known as Jansenism; his early years as a painter; and his experiences as a prisoner-of-war. These influences manifest themselves respectively in the recurrent themes of free-will versus determinism, in the extreme and austere precision with which he composes a shot, and in the frequent use of the prison motif (two films are located almost entirely inside prisons).

All Bresson’s features after the first have literary antecedents of one form or another, albeit updated. Two are from Dostoevsky (Une Femme douceand Quatre nuits), two from Bernanos (Journal and Mouchette), one from Tolstoy (L’Argent), one from Diderot (Les Dames), while Un Condamné and Le Procès are based on the written accounts of the true events. In addition Pickpocket is clearly influenced by Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Balthazar has a similar premiss to the same author’s The Idiot. Lancelot du Lac is derived from Malory’s Arthurian legends, while Le Diable probablement (1977) was inspired by a newspaper report, as is stated at the start of the film.

A critic once wrote that Mizoguchi’s Sansho Dayu (1954) "is one of those films for whose sake the cinema exists". For many of us, the same can be said of the work of Robert Bresson.

(Source : Roger Ebert , Senses Of Cinema , Ozu's World Movie Reviews )

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