'Misfortune's Image': The Cinematic Representation of Trauma in Robert Bresson's Mouchette (1967)

Mark Cresswell, Zulfia Karimova


This paper asks questions about 'trauma' and its cultural representation specifically, trauma's representation in the cinema. In this respect, it compares and contrasts the work of Robert Bresson, in particular his 1967 masterpiece, Mouchette, with contemporary Hollywood film. James Mangold's 1999 'Oscar-winning' Girl, Interrupted offers an interesting example for cultural comparison. In both Mouchette and Girl, Interrupted the subject matter includes, amongst other traumatic experiences, rape, childhood abuse and suicide. The paper ponders the question of whether such aspects of trauma can ever be authentically represented on film; or, whether, on the contrary, through the deployment of cultural stereotypes, cinematic representation tends rather to reproduce the very forms of structural power which are, in the first place, trauma's primary cause. Bresson emerges from this analysis in a favourable light for, whereas Mangold stereotypes victims of trauma and represents traumatic experience itself as inevitable and over-determined, Bresson always retains for the victim a sense of critical agency. By contrasting key scenes from both films, the paper suggests that contemporary popular cinema (the 'Hollywood-ized' form), working in tandem with institutions of social control, such as psychiatry, does not subvert but, in fact, reproduces patterns of structural power. This argument has particular significance for the cultural representation of women. The paper is theoretically framed by Simone Weil's reflections on both 'representation' and 'structural power'.


Trauma; Representation; Robert Bresson; Simone Weil

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