Robert Bresson plumbs great reservoirs of feeling with Mouchette, one of the most searing portraits of human desperation ever put on film. With a dying mother, an absent, alcoholic father, and a baby brother in need of care, the teenage Mouchette seeks solace and respite from her circumstances in the nature of the French countryside and daily routine. Bresson deploys his trademark minimalist style to heartbreaking effect in this essential work of French filmmaking, a hugely empathetic drama that elevates its trapped protagonist into one of the cinema’s most memorable tragic figures.
Criterion upgrades their previous DVD edition of Robert Bresson’s Mouchette to Blu-ray, presenting the film on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and with a 1080p/24hz encode. The disc is using a new 4K restoration in place of the older high-definition one found on that older DVD.
The upgrade over the DVD (which was fine for the time) is pretty substantial, improving upon every aspect of that edition. First off, the restoration work has just about cleaned up all of the source issues that remained in the DVD’s presentation, from scratches and marks all the way through pulsing and frame shifts. The image is incredibly clean and far more stable this time around, with only a few very minor blemishes remaining.
The new presentation also delivers better contrast and grayscale, blacks looking deeper and inkier in the process. The old DVD could look a bit washed out with grayer blacks, but that's not a problem here, leading to better shadows in the process. The overal presentation is significantly sharper, the finer details looking far clearer, and film grain renders in more natural and cleaner manner. I was also impressed with textures of objects within the film, Arsène’s worn-out jacket sticking out. In all it's a huge improvement and it delivers that wonderful photographic look I like.
(As a note, there is a looping shot right before the film ends. This was present on other releases, including Criterion’s DVD, and it is intentional, more than likely what Bresson had to do to drag the shot out longer.)
The lossless PCM 1.0 monaural presentation sounds to offer a bit of an upgrade over the previous DVD edition. Most of the improvement comes off in the music, which almost sounds new and offers quite a bit of range. The rest (dialogue and sound effects) still come off a little flat but it’s all clear and easy to hear.
All of the supplementary material found on the DVD gets ported over to this DVD, though it’s not a lot sadly. There is a decent audio commentary by film scholar Tony Rayns, who touches on the themes of the film (coming down to “sex and death”) and compares the film to the original novel written by Georges Bernanos. He also touches on Bresson’s style and how he uses the non-professional actors in this film and his other work, and even gets a little into how Bresson had become a “gay icon,” which I’ll confess I was taken back a bit by. It’s a good track and Rayns does pack in a lot of material in the film’s short 82-minute runtime, but I wouldn’t call the film “subtle” so I can’t say there were any real revelations or surprises of any sort in the track. Viewers new to Bresson will deinitely want to give the track a listen.
A bit better is the archival material Criterion had dug up, including a 7-minute segment from the French television program Cinèma—where the program visits the set of Mouchette—and then Theodor Kotulla’s short 31-minute documentary Au hazard Bresson, filmed on set and winner of the German Film Award for best short documentary in 1966. The short television interview provides some rehearsal footage along with interviews with actors Jean-Claude Guilbert (who likes the mindless work of acting and the pay that goes along with it) and Nadine Nortier and her guardian, but the lengthier documentary offers more behind-the-scenes footage of Bresson directing his actors and working with the cinematographer. The documentary also has some great interviews with the filmmaker himself, who talks about how he’s not one to worry about storyboards and scripts (he says you need to “allow yourself to be surprised”), and how he thinks music should be used in a film. It’s probably one of the better documentaries and/or features I’ve seen around Bresson.
The disc closes off with the film’s trailer put together by Godard in typical Godard fashion (the trailer promises the “colors” of black and white and it’s all pretty great) and then the included insert features the same short essay by poet and critic Robert Polito. The material ultimately covers the film in a decent manner, it’s just probably the least satisfying of all of Criterion’s releases for Bresson’s films so far (outside of Les dames du Bois de Boulogne).
The features, while good overall, can still be a bit underwhelming. Still, the new presentation offers a significant upgrade over Criterion’s previous DVD edition.