Perhaps a somewhat odd observation to make but I got to get it out of my system before I get to the full review: Mochette is a punk rock girl. They didn't have a name for it back then in rural France, or, I imagine, the book this film's based on, or in any sense of what Robert Bresson went through in the world, and through everything in the story of this 14 year old girl living in a world of shit, she says 'fuck you' right back to people - sometimes, perhaps egregiously, to people who may not deserve it like the other school girls (one of her pastimes seems to be hiding behind some grass as school lets out and throwing dirt at them - none of them fight back or do much, and yet this makes her even more alienated).
Disaffection is the name of the game with this young woman, and for good reason considering where's she's at in the world and who is around her and her hopes and dreams being nil. If only she had grown up about ten years later in LA or New York city or even some small town where a Ramones or Clash record happened upon a shop, she might have found a modicum of release, or maybe the occasional punk rock friend to share the attitude of aggressive adolescence.
Alas, this character is in a Bresson film, and as it turns out its one of his finest. Oh, it's certainly depressing enough, and by enough it's by leaps and bounds. You can often gage a story's level of drama based on how much grim despair there is in balance with some lighter touches or moments where things aren't quite so absolutely-horrific-terrible-bleak-without-hope-or-future. Grapes of Wrath is about poor people seeking a new life, but we find that it's not all hopeless due to the perseverance of the Joad family, for example.
In Mouchette there's practically no release from either the stresses at home - taking care of a baby brother to a mother who is dying in bed and a father who constantly hits her for, well, no reason particular - and at school (not always respecting authority is one thing, but it feels claustrophobic for her, a cloud of depression) - and with other adults that she comes across (feuding neighbors who spend their days killing innocent animals like pheasants and rabbits), one of whom tries to (or does just) rape her while drunk. It'd be enough to make anyone crack.
Bresson does give this character one scene where it feels like the world is not all oppressive and dreary and full of judgmental adults, and that's when she goes on bumper cars. This was unexpected, a moment where Mouchette gets to let out some of her rawer emotions in an atmosphere of entertainment - she even has a kind of connection to someone that she's bumping into, maybe not the wisest decision but it's someone with for the moment kind eyes - and it lasts for a good few on-screen minutes. It's a distraction, a brief respite from whatever else she'll go through, when the tears streak down her eyes and she can't get away from people unless she hides under bushes at night or rolls down a hill to... well, I won't give that away.
But eventually these adults do figure their way into Mochette's life, and it's part of the village she lives in after all; we have to see how these men act, drunk or having epileptic fits (the latter part is intense to watch, mostly because of a lack of music or anything else draws us completely to this mans pain and Mouchette, a girl who still despite everything has some level of compassion and care, tends to him). It's all part of how Mouchette acts and reacts to everything here.
I don't know if I would suggest watching this as a first Bresson, and certainly don't watch it if you're having a particularly rough-bad day. Or, on the contrary, this may be just the thing to seek out when you're feeling blue. Not so much for the 'well, things could be worse, right?' frame of mind, that's simply cruel. It's more that Bresson's art, his straight-ahead-never-look-away focus on this girl and all that she goes through makes her what she is: raw, on-edge, angry, desperate, in physical and mental pain, and with those fleeting moments of joy, and the art comes about as close as it can to redeeming that struggle, if that makes sense. Can we feel any catharsis through this? You bet your ass we can, if we're open to it.