A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

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.