The films of Robert Bresson neither resemble his 20th-century contemporaries nor his modern imitators. Known for his minimalist style which beautifully subverts the spectacle of cinema, Bresson is rightly recognised as one of the pioneers of the cinematic medium whose masterpieces such as A Man Escaped and Au Hasard Balthazar routinely make it onto lists of the greatest films of all time.
However, no other Bresson film has made me feel so simultaneously overwhelmed and empty as his 1967 gem Mouchette. Built upon the eponymous novel by Georges Bernanos, it is a bleakly sparse coming-of-age tale about a young girl who lives in a tiny French village. Constantly pushed around by her alcoholic father and worrying about her dying mother, she ends up taking her own life after she is raped by a poacher.
In an interview, Bresson explained: “There are so many motives, which is why this film isn’t too bad. I explain nothing, and you can understand it any way you like. Still, you must feel that no single explanation will suffice. One is the wall placed before her by other people after the rape. She can’t live in the village; she can’t live in the house. Then too, she has been abused by a man whom she started to love.”
Back in 1996, one artist in Amsterdam took it upon herself to pay tribute to the idea of Mouchette – a helpless girl deciding to escape the tyranny of her torturous existence through suicide. She took on the pseudonym of ‘Mouchette’ and made a website that has message boards and forums on the subject of suicide.
Bresson himself believed: “I confess that more and more suicide loses its sinfulness to me. Killing oneself can be courageous; not killing oneself, because you wish to lose nothing, even the worst that life has to offer, can also be courageous. Since I live near the Seine, I have seen many people jump into the river in front of my windows.”
He could not understand how it was possible to continue your existence without acknowledging this profound philosophical emptiness: “It’s remarkable that more don’t do it,” he said. “There are so many reasons for suicide, good and bad. I believe that the church has become less rigorous against it. Sometimes it is inevitable, and not always because of madness. To be aware of a certain emptiness can make life impossible.”
Although nobody knew who Mouchette is for the longest time, people from all over the world have been posting notes on online message boards for years now. Ranging from cruel jokes about suicide to morbid tips about how to kill yourself, these notes are definitely disturbing to read and have attracted criticism from many sources including Bresson’s widow who threatened legal action.
The major reason why the website has become such an enigmatic work of cyber-art is the fact that many people believed it was created by a 13-year-old girl in Amsterdam. The deceptively simple bio on the website had this to say: “My name is Mouchette. I live in Amsterdam. I am nearly 13 years old. I am an artist…” The identity of the creator was hidden for the longest time until it was claimed by Martine Neddam.
Check out the bizarre suicide forum/experimental new media artwork based on Robert Bresson’s classic film Mouchette here.