ROBERT BRESSON stands alone among the world's film directors; his status being enhanced in particular for Catholics. Almost his whole artistic output has been specifically and unmistakably Catholic in theme. Almost certainly, the movie for which he is best known is the Diary of a Country Priest from the novel by Georges Bernanos.
Bresson's latest movie to reach London, Mouchette ("X," Academy Three), is from another Bernanos novel. General expectation therefore, it seems only fair to suppose, is another great Catholic film. I have always believed that film versions of books should be self-sustaining, not to be judged by literary standards.
Faced with "Mouchette" find myself for perhaps the first time, at a loss about the film through not having read the book. It is as though the Bresson film were a commentary or variation of a theme to be stated.
Without question the film has all Bresson's characteristic intensity of concentration, his gravity and depth. Slowly as it moves, it grasps the attention as inescapably as a great conductor during a musical pause. No doubt, if you seek the spiritual message persistently enough you will be rewarded. But at first sight, it is overlaid by a plot as thick in melodrama as Cold Comfort Farm.
"Mouchette," the heroine (Nadine Porter) is the 14-yearold daughter of a background of total squalor. Her parents are drunken paupers. When she loses her way home from school she takes refuge from the storm with a poacher who is drunk, epileptic and rapes her. On arrival home she finds her mother dying before the child can tell her sad story.
The positive side seems to be that the child's reaction to the poacher is one of purest love.
Bresson is never easy. The Danish director, Carl Dreyer, in his early work, is the only one I can remember coming near developing the cinema into so precise and profound a language. But "Mouchette" 1 find almost the hardest of all Bresson, especially the ecstatic suicide.
But his close-up poring over detail is rewarding, never dull or empty. I recommend you to see "Mouchette" and see what you make of it. For myself, I hope to read the book, then go back to see the film again.
Evidently the perceptive Academy programme planners accept the film's religious character. For the supporting film is A Cathedral in Our Time, a documentary of the building of Liverpool Cathedral. This, of course, has great fascination for all Catholics, I imagine, even if we are not all bound to endorse the Cardinal's artistic criticism when he calls the Cathedral authentic art to be cherished as long as men love beauty.
Dirk Bogarde can hardly put a foot wrong in pictures since he grew out of romantic juvenilia. It is characteristic of him now, when the spy cycle has surely run itself down, to come up with an almost sparkling topical comedy about security. In particular Sebastian ("A," Rialto) is about the decoding establishment where Mr. Bogarde in charge of some hundred or so glamour girls breaks down enemy and allied codes and tries at the same time to sort out his relations with the girls, especially three of them—Lilli Palmer, Susannah York and Janet Munro.
We are required to be involved in any spy hunt, only to taste and relish the highlevel hysteria on which such departments run which at one point drives Sebastian (Dirk Bogarde) back to his Oxford college. As the Head of Intelligence, John Gielgud, in comparatively few scenes, leaves no doubt of the ruthlessness at the heart. It is interesting that one of the two producers should be Michael Powell, who shared responsibility for some of the wittiest British pictures. This one too has echoes of a lighter Graham Greenery which is refreshingly astringent.
Astringency has no part in Misunderstood ("A," CameoPoly). I am not sure whether I ever actually read Florence Montgomery's classic tearjerker for children, but the title was so familiar on nursery shelves I couldn't believe it was the story of a new Italian film. So it is, showing with success, I understand, in Italy, and here re-adapted and dubbed into English more or less, but filmed in Florence.
As Anthony Quayle and John Sharp are respectively the widower father and the perfect uncle of two small boys (Stefano Cologrande and Simone Giannoni) and all the rest of the cast are Italian, the atmosphere is not absolutely integrated. But the pillars of the old plot
still work—widowed father, baby brotherly love and jealousy, sickroom sacrifice. Florence (City) is irresistible. The children and the dubbing remarkable and the Italian director, Luigi Comencini. expert. Mr. Quayle and Mr. Sharp also come very well out of the ordeal.
Madigan (Odeon, Kensington and New Victoria) is a conventional, even slightly oldfashioned police thriller, well enough made by Don Siegel (honoured with a season of his work at the National Film Theatre) to make quite good substantial entertainment, like club upholstery.
The playing helps too, especially by Henry Fonda as a martinet police commissioner, and by Richard Widmark and Harry Guardino as his two star cops. Susan Clark does a nice bit as Fonda's mistress.
Answers about monasticism
QUESTIONS posed by people curious about the monastic life and its effect on the outside world will be answered on Sunday in a programme, "Monasticism, 1968," on BBC-4.
They will be put to nuns and monks of Catholic and Anglican communities by Elly Jansen, a Dutch psychiatric social worker who is Director of the Richmond Fellowship —an organisation concerned with the care and rehabilitation of mentally handicapped people — and who is also a state registered nurse.
Miss Jansen and Harold Rogers, the producer, visited various communities, including the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield in Yorkshire, the Deaconess Community of St. Andrew in West London, and the Benedictine Priory of Christ the King at Cockfosters.