Léon Morin, Priest Screen 15 articles

Léon Morin, Priest

1961

Léon Morin, Priest Poster
  • ++

    Cahiers du cinéma: Fereydoun Hoveyda
    December 1961 | Cahiers du cinéma: The 1960s (pp. 259-260)

    If we are going to be fair to Melville, we owe it to him to look at some of the narrative devices he could have used but rejected, and to sense how they would have affected the 'chain' of images, how far Melville's style was the only one possible for his meaning to be made clear.

  • The poetic results are literary and personal; the heroine’s offscreen narration suggests the pre-Bressonian form of Melville’s first feature, Le silence de la mer, and sudden subjective shots convey the woman’s physical proximity to the priest as she undergoes an ambiguous religious conversion. Not an unqualified success, the film remains strong for its performances, its inventive editing and framing, and its evocative rendering of the French occupation.

  • It's a film about belief, for both the characters and the audience. It is also a film about being in and experiencing the world, of finding life (and friendship) in even the most difficult circumstances. Some of the film’s most fascinating scenes revolve around oblique discussions of the theological arguments of the books that Belmondo lends to Riva to both encourage and chasten her inquiry (she basically has communist sympathies).

  • In the pantheon of female erotic fantasies, seducing a priest sits near the top. The female adventurer requires a challenge, and bedding a celibate who probably is a virgin is one of the biggest challenges of all... Léon Morin, Priest is based on an autobiographical book by a woman that might not have been the bodice ripper this film seems to be. Nonetheless, Jean-Pierre Melville’s screen adaptation manages to generate an erotic charge that perhaps the author would have approved of.

  • A movie that moves with the diamond-cut precision and carefully constricting tension of Melville's trademark gangland sagas, the precious booty here being nothing less than the human soul, the price for an errant gesture the retribution of an even more fearsome underworld.

  • Henri Decae provided the ritualized cinematography in a series of short uninflected vignettes centered on a spiritual duel between a nonbeliever and a true believer. It further establishes Melville as the last to be discovered and appreciated giant of the French New Wave of the ’50s and ’60s.

  • Léon Morin responds openly to Barny's gambit. He suggests they continue their discussion, which they do during regular evening meetings characterized by theological discussions and increasingly electric contact — a fleeting touch, two hands roughly grasping shoulders, a garment grazing a breast. With his intense physicality Mr. Belmondo, another star of the French New Wave, brings a shock of the carnal to every encounter.

  • The film falls in an odd, but decisive place in Melville’s career, and if the film weren’t quite so good as it is, it would be easy to dismiss as a cynical bid for credibility... As always for Melville the most touching image in the film is a gesture: a caress from Barny to the Vichy-sympathizer Arlette, whom she has recently slapped across the face.

  • The Film Center is right to make LEON MORIN, PRIEST the centerpiece of its short primer on iconic actor Jean-Paul Belmondo. Not just because it's a great film, and because it's a prime lesson in what makes Jean-Pierre Melville a great director, but because there's no Belmondo performance quite like it. It's he who plays Morin, with his usual cocky swagger transformed into an anarchic, absolute confidence.

  • Beautifully modulated with evocatively brusque fades to black and compositions that inventively position characters within the frame according to the movements of their power struggles, Léon Morin, Priest operates both as a faithful literary adaptation and a vessel for Melville’s fatalist preoccupations.

  • Ultimately, this is Riva’s picture, with her astonishing emotional transparency giving heft to perhaps the closest Melville came to making a “women’s picture,” one infused with a sensitive feminine perspective mostly foreign from his stoic crime pictures. But Léon Morin, Priest even points the way for later films like Le Samourai, Le Cercle Rouge and, supremely, Army of Shadows.

  • ++

    My Journey Through French Cinema: Bertrand Tavernier
    May 16, 2016 |

    It was incredibly daring to focus a film on theological debates between a communist atheist and a priest. The ambiguity of conversion, but also the frustration of repressed love, that's what Melville dramatized in this devastating masterpiece. The portrait of this priest out of the ordinary, out of time. A resistance fighter.

  • Riva provides the film with a startling cumulative force. In this 1961 production, two years after she supplied the emotional ballast for Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima, Mon Amour, Riva delivers a great unpretentious performance in a part that could have turned affected or bathetic. With a range of modes from mischievous farce to erotic tragedy, she makes the heroine’s confusion of spiritual and sexual awakening accessible and stirring.

  • The new restoration includes two additional sequences, apparently cut after the movie’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival. In the first, Barny is threatened by a collaborationist colleague who suspects her of sheltering a Jewish family; in the second, she suffers a crisis of conscience upon learning that a young girl with whom she is acquainted has been marked for death by the Resistance for fraternizing with the Germans... Both enrich what is a gripping movie, and also a great one.

  • The director's attention to small, revealing behavior—which he typically used to generate suspense—creates a potent eroticism here . . . Yet Léon Morin is about more than unspoken desire—its ultimate concern is the unseen force of religious faith, in which the characters find solace during the Nazi occupation. Conceivably the most probing film about Catholicism ever made by a Jewish director, Léon Morin deepens the theme of tacit devotion that runs through all of Melville's filmography.

More Links