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The Criterion Collection presents
Mouchette (1967)

"Hope is dead."
- Mouchette (Nadine Nortier)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: January 16, 2007

Stars: Nadine Nortier, Jean-Claude Guilbert, Maria Cardinal, Paul Hebert
Director: Robert Bresson

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:21m:39s
Release Date: January 16, 2007
UPC: 715515021425
Genre: foreign


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A-AA- B

DVD Review

The insinuating aspects of the films of Robert Bresson may not always be readily apparent, given the sparsity of his style—terse, spare dialogue, almost no music, only a modest amount of conventional cinematic action. But if ever there were an instance of still waters running deep, it would be Bresson—you watch his movies and it feels as if his characters' very souls were on the line, that the mundane and everyday are fraught with psychological peril, that everybody in Bresson's world is close to if not at the very end of their respective ropes. And Mouchette is no exception—on some level it's got the very conventional trappings of a coming-of-age picture, but it's so much more compelling than any run-of-the-mill story about How I Became A Woman That Summer, or something. Bresson's style of filmmaking is very much out of fashion, and we may not always have the temperament for it—but it's worth sustaining the level of concentration necessary to become enveloped in one of his pictures, because the rewards can be extraordinary.

Nadine Nortier plays the title character, a girl on the brink of adolescence in a French farming town—her mother is bedridden and Mouchette has domestic responsibilities, like tending to the baby, but she's got a tremendous amount of autonomy, and she's deeply curious about her world and her place in it. She seems out of sorts with her peers—it might be too much to call her a social outcast, but she's not one of the popular girls, she seems not to have many friends, and her instinct is to remain alone and to explore. Being quiet allows her to observe much that her contemporaries might miss—a poacher in the woods laying illegal traps, for instance, and his subsequent run-ins with the local gamekeeper. Mouchette has her own run-ins with him, too—he's drunk and loutish, she's curious and present, and that dangerous combination does damage to both her psyche and her reputation. And once you lose your good name in a small town, she learns, there's no getting it back.

We spend some time as well with Louisa, the local barmaid, and her various suitors, yet there's always the sense that we're viewing things through the prism of experience of Mouchette. Bresson almost always eschewed using recognizable actors, and frequently didn't want his cast members to have any professional training at all—it makes for a kind of rawness that is sometimes affecting, and sometimes stilted. Bresson is able to coax very good work out of them, generally, though on occasion their discomfort in front of the camera doesn't mesh with that of their characters', and we're left with a sense of performers just feeling out of sorts. Technically, however, France may not have yet produced a more gifted craftsman than Bresson—his eye is impeccable, and the framing and photography of the images are unparalleled. On occasion, certainly, that stasis can test the patience of even the most serene—the camera lingers on shots long enough that you're pressed to search for meaning, though sometimes you realize that you're just watching a long, slow take of a girl drinking a cup of hot chocolate. But then the movie is barely 80 minutes long, and its climax is shattering—you realize that you've been witnessing a morality tale unfold, one with devastating consequences, and that even though life goes on after a Bresson movie is over, the sense of loss is palpable.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Bresson's eye rivals that of still photographers like Atget and Cartier-Bresson, and his work looks stunning here. The sharp transfer betrays only very occasional instances of damage to the source material; otherwise it's as clean and fine an effort as you'll see for a film of this vintage.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoFrenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: The audio isn't as breathtaking as the image quality, but it's still well done, with only occasional bits of hiss, and the dynamic limits that you'd expect from a mono track of this period.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Tony Rayns
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. accompanying booklet
  2. color bars
Extras Review: Film historian Tony Rayns provides a thoroughly engaging commentary track, reflecting on Bresson's career and the place of this film in it, and teasing out the thematic elements of the piece without pushing on them too hard. He's also very good at comparing the film to the novel on which it is based (the same writer, George Bernanos, also wrote Diary of a Country Priest), and while he's got the advantage of delivering his track over a film with a relatively short running time, the absence of blank patches in the commentary make this an exemplary effort.

Au hasard Bresson (31m:11s) is a 1966 documentary that features a visit to the film's set—it's got that Genius At Work feel, though it's a bit of a surprise to see that the director's got a temper, something you might not anticipate given the tone of his films. Travelling (07m:28s) is a 1967 piece from French television, the most interesting part of which shows Bresson rehearsing his actors, coaxing and wheedling performances out of these spirited amateurs. An original trailer for the film was cut by Jean-Luc Godard, and it's kind of a riot to see the nouvelle vague techniques at work on an old master—it's a great trailer, though, like many others, it spills far too much of the plot. The accompanying booklet features an essay on the film by Robert Polito that surveys the thematic elements of the piece.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

A roiling morality tale with a serene surface, this is very much of a piece with Bresson's other films, and is just as quietly devastating as any of them. The technical values on this DVD couldn't be higher, and the extras, especially the paradigmatic commentary track, are deeply illuminating. Highly recommended.

 


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