Adapted from Georges Bernanos' novel, Pialat's ascetic meditation on faith, sainthood, and the nature of evil is a film of shattering intensity. Depardieu plays troubled Father Donissan, whose chance meeting with an insinuating horse-dealer (the Devil?) and confrontation with pregnant teenage murderess Mouchette (Bonnaire) convince him that human actions are governed not by God but by a manipulative Satan. The worries of Donissan's concerned superior (Pialat) about the priest's excessive physical and psychological self-flagellation are tempered by intimations of an unorthodox saintliness. Is Donissan motivated by a divine calling or merely by mortal pride? Through the coldly-lit images and restrained flesh-and-blood performances, self-confessed atheist Pialat insists on the absolute reality of events, an approach which allows something intangible (spiritual?) to seep in at the edges of the frame. Despite the confusing cutting from scene to scene, the narrative's rigorous logic, the performances, and the stark visual beauty yield profound pleasures.
Cast and crew