A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Diary of a Country Priest (Robert Bresson, 1951) revisited

Claude Laydu and Jean Danet in Diary of a Country Priest
I chose the still above deliberately, because it's an image uncharacteristic of Bresson's film: the young priest accepting a ride on the back of a motorcycle from Olivier, cousin of Chantal (Nicole Ladmiral), who, along with the rest of her family, has caused him so much stress. Olivier is a soldier in the Foreign Legion, a character and pursuit about as far from the priest's tormented spiritual life as possible. It's a brief, liberated scene, one that suggests a world of potentiality other than that of the kind of suffering, spiritually and physically, that the priest has known in his assignment to the bleak and hostile parish of Ambricourt. Of course, the priest returns to his suffering after his motorcycle ride: He learns that he has terminal stomach cancer and dies in a slovenly apartment watched over by a former fellow seminarian, Fabregars (Léon Arvel), who is living with his mistress. As ascetic as the young priest has striven to be, he has to come to terms with a world that seems irrevocably fallen, even to the point of taking the last, absolving blessing from the lapsed Fabregars. Diary of a Country Priest remains for me one of film's great puzzles: What are we to make of the young priest's intellectualized faith? Is it a film for believers or for agnostics? In the end, its enigmas and ambiguities are integral to its greatness.

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