A new disc from the Criterion Collection can feel a little bit like trying a new vegetarian dish. Sometimes it’s juicy and delicious, sometimes you feel like you ought to like it just because it’s oh-so-healthy (and then you’re glad you did), and sometimes it’s broccoli rabe.

Robert Bresson’s final black-and-white film, an adaptation of a tragic novel by Georges Bernanos, delivers a striking portrait of abject poverty. The early scenes, when young Mouchette shuffles on oversize clogs between school and flop house home (drunken father, wasting mother, screaming baby) are quite affecting. Bresson is up to his usual exposition-less tricks, and the stark naturalism is bracing. Mouchette is unloved at home and abused at school, so who’s to blame her when she throws some mud at the pretty classmates in their fancy dresses? But then, she turns out to be a character with no options, and storylines involving a) poachers and b) epileptics and c) rapists are always a problem for me. When there are poaching rapists with foaming epileptic seizures, I’m in deep trouble. Au Hasard Blathazar struck me as sublime evocation of suffering, but here, after only 81 minutes, I was just glad that the suffering–Mouchette’s and mine–was finally over. The DVD comes out tomorrow.

Mouchette. Robert Bresson, 1967. **

[tags]2 stars, film, french, robert bresson, criterion collection, tragedy, suffering, poachers, epileptics, rape, poverty, alcoholism, suicide[/tags]