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LEON MORIN, PRIEST

France / Italy, 1961 (MIFF 1963)

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

Grenoble, 1940: a French provincial town during the Occupalton. A young widow with a child, anti-religious and Marxist, is discontented with her life. One day partly through boredom, partly through disgust with the conventional piety of church-goers, she enters a confessional and insults the young priest. His reaction surprises her; calmly he offers to lend her books to study. They meet many times and the priest goes about his task of helping her in a manner calculated to break down the barriers between them. A conversion follows. But when she declares her love for him, he remains emphatically a man of God, and despite her emotional stress, she comes to understand that she must live without him.

Jean-Pierre Melville, the director, has treated this difficult theme with great directness, tact, and unstrained intensity. With a few strokes, he sketches in the Occupation atmosphere which does so much to contribute to the emotional upheavals of the plot. The camerawork brilliantly suggests the atmosphere of closed doors and unheated rooms, as well as providing the exact low-key neutral background necessary for the development of the relationship between Barny and Morin. But the film shines most particularly by the direction of the actors. Emmanuele Riva is excellent and Jean-Paul Belmondo gives an unforced, completely serious, and extremely moving performance. Award: City of Venice Prize, Venice Film Festival.

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