WARNING: This analysis contains Spoilers for ‘Mouchette.’
Mouchette is a minimalist tragedy, Directed by French master Robert Bresson (Au Hasard Balthazar), who presents a bleak, beautiful coming-of-age story, set in a world of unimaginable suffering.
Mouchette herself is an impoverished fourteen-year-old with an alcoholic father, an ill and incapable mother, a baby brother, and nothing else in her life but disappointment it seems. Looked down upon by the village she lives in and an outsider at school, the film is a stunning yet melancholic portrait of hope in the eyes of a child, a story of a young girl desperately trying to find human connection wherever she can.
The film seems to offer consistent destruction to any happiness that bestows the protagonist, a series of what appears to be gruelling tests for Mouchette, who is not a bad child at all, simply a product of terrible circumstance. An early example is a wonderful scene of true innocence and immaturity, of Mouchette on a bumper car essentially flirting with a boy who reciprocates in the only way children would know how to in that situation, by driving into one another. It is with such simplicity that Bresson captures this moment of rare connection, that as an audience you do not feel patronised, you are not cheering for love but are instead observing a temporary moment of enjoyment, and because of this the following scene of Mouchette’s father smacking her around the face for her flirtations feels more unjust, more shocking – and in keeping with the whole film – more real.
That is nothing of the brutality that follows through. Mouchette is caught in a rainstorm a day later and witnesses the possible murder of a policeman by a poacher, Arsene. Arsene takes her to his cabin to protect her from the storm, and as a guarantee that Mouchette will promise to act as an alibi. We have already seen Mouchette’s father’s abuse and her humiliating school life, and so we feel an empathy so painful that you could not blame her at all for trusting Arsene, a figure of possible promise. She is only a child and has already witnessed the downfall of adulthood on so many occasions, so it is deeply saddening that when Arsene has a seizure she holds him so tenderly, as if wishing she herself could have been held like that, and that even though life has thrown so many awful things in her direction she stays to look after a complete stranger. This stranger, however, after regaining consciousness, rapes her.
For every good thing Mouchette tries to do, scales rebalance and attempt to ruin her. She returns from her rape and instantly looks after her baby brother and mother, but of course, her mother dies. Later when Mouchette is sympathetically offered chocolate, a simple but overwhelming luxury to a child, we observe what might be true kindness from a stranger, an adult who cares perhaps, but as soon as the scratches are seen on Mouchette’s neck the adult dismisses her as a slut, reveals the true side of a society the child is now all too aware of. She is offered a gift of a new dress by an elderly woman, only to be patronized and lectured, as if the acceptance of the gift meant Mouchette now owed her something, unrequited respect perhaps. Finally, after accidentally ripping the dress on a branch and seeing a rabbit get shot, she wraps herself in the damaged dress and rolls down a hill into a pond, killing herself.
Although consistently bleak, the film, in fact, offers many ideas of hope and appreciation. Mouchette strives to keep doing good in a world of horror and absurdity, she looks for relationships, she trusts though no-one would blame her for never doing so. This picture shows existentialism in a way so simple that separating yourself from the child is no longer a choice. It portrays a cinematic empathy strong enough to rival Bicycle Thieves. It portrays an understanding of human significance that could be a counterpart to Albert Camus’ book L’Etranger. Mouchette’s acceptance of death at the end of film is so beautiful that you feel it is right for her, although of course harrowing, the suicide did not appear to be because she gave up, but more because she accepted the consequences of her life and the actions of others, that now she had control and could finally be happy in those moments.