Mouchette ([mu.ʃɛt]) is a 1967 French film directed by Robert Bresson, starring Nadine Nortier and Jean-Claude Guilbert. It is based on the novel of the same name by Georges Bernanos. It was entered into the 1967 Cannes Film Festival, winning the OCIC Award (International Catholic Organization for Cinema and Audiovisual).
A coming-of-age story, Mouchette is set in a rural French village and follows the daughter of a bullying alcoholic father and ailing mother. Unfolding in the director's famously sparse and minimalist style, Bresson said that its titular character "offers evidence of misery and cruelty. She is found everywhere: wars, concentration camps, tortures, assassinations."
Mouchette is among Bresson's most acclaimed films. The Criterion Collection DVD release includes a trailer for the film made by Jean-Luc Godard.
The film opens with a gamekeeper, Mathieu (Jean Vimenet), watching a poacher, Arsène (Jean-Claude Gilbert), as he sets his snares in the sunlit woods. Mouchette (Nadine Nortier), whose name means "little fly," lives in an isolated French village with her alcoholic father and bedridden mother, where she takes care of her infant brother and does all the housework.
She is first introduced at her school, in bedraggled clothes and oversized clogs, where she is mocked by her classmates and chastised by her teacher, first for refusing to sing, and then for singing off-key. To correct this, her teacher grabs her by the head, orienting Mouchette's ear toward the piano keys, while striking the correct note several times. Later, Mouchette throws mud at several girls in her class who run away.
Later, in a contrast to the misery of her daily life, Mouchette goes to the fair and rides on the bumper cars. She meets a young man who bumps his car into hers several times. She bumps into his a few times. Despite the physical shocks incurred upon her during the activity, Mouchette seems to overlook them, and even likes the young man. Afterwards her father abruptly intervenes, slapping her on the face before she can speak to the boy.
While walking home from school one day, she gets lost in the woods and must seek shelter under a tree when a fierce rainstorm falls. Arsène, an alcoholic epileptic, stumbles upon her and takes her to his hut. He fears he has killed a man with whom he had fought and attempts to use Mouchette as an alibi to disabuse him of the blame. After she agrees to repeat the story he gives her, Arsène rapes her. By early morning, Mouchette gets away and walks home. Returning home and finding her mother's condition worsening, she attempts to assuage her fears by comforting her. After her mother eventually succumbs to this sickness, Mouchette goes on an excursion for milk. On the way she has several encounters with the townspeople, in each of which she is insulted and dehumanized.
Later on, when confronted about the events of the previous night in the woods, she tries to offer the story agreed upon with Arsène. Reluctantly she states that she was at Arsène's house through the night because they were lovers. Finally, she is invited into the house of an elderly woman, who gives her several dresses and a shroud to cover her mother upon her mourning. The elderly woman is very condescending to Mouchette. On her way out, Mouchette insults her and damages the elderly woman's carpet. She goes to a nearby lake. Mouchette waves to a man on a tractor, is ignored, covers herself in the shroud and rolls downhill into the water.
Besides his preference for non-professional actors, Bresson also liked to cast actors he had never used before. The one major exception is Jean-Claude Guilbert, who had the rôle of Arnold in Au hasard Balthazar, and plays Arsène in this film.
Mouchette is considered by many critics to be among Bresson's best films. Sight & Sound's prestigious critics’ poll placed Mouchette in the top 20 in 1972.