Wednesday, August 6, 2014

238. Journal d'un cure de campagne/Diary of a Country Priest (1951)

Running Time: 115 minutes
Directed By: Robert Bresson
Written By: Robert Bresson, from novel by Georges Bernanos
Main Cast: Claude Laydu, Jean Riveyre, Adrien Borel, Rachel Berendt, Nicole Maurey
Click here to view the trailer


I made the decision today that August is going to be a boom month for the blog. I've been really slacking since my return - sure I've been promoted at work, which means a bit more stress, but honestly the work load isn't that much more than what I used to deal with when banging out twenty - thirty reviews a month. Of course, I can only do what my eyelids will allow and my primetime to bang out watching movies/writing reviews is after my wife goes to bed, which usually isn't until like 9:30 - 10:00. Since I'm in bed by midnight, that gives me about two hours a night to get crackin'. Hopefully I can start making some serious progress...Anyway, BRESSON WEEK rolls on with Diary of a Country Priest.

If you've ever heard Scorsese give an in-depth interview, then you've probably heard him talk about this movie, which he's said has had a major impact on Taxi Driver. I really don't see the connection between the two films, but if this film had something to do with that masterpiece, then that pretty much automatically makes it a "must see", doesn't it? The film takes place in the country (imagine that) and picks up when a priest (Laydu) arrives at his new parish in the small village of Ambricourt. We get most of the information we need from his journal entries and learn right away that he's ill - constantly scrawling in his diary complaints of a sometimes unbearable stomach ache. He notes that the only thing he can eat that doesn't further upset his stomach is pieces of bread soaked in wine. During the days he teaches an all girl class the ins and outs of Catholicism and quizzes them on things like the Eucharist and sometimes he travels to a nearby town of Torcy to visit with another, older priest. After a while, he builds a relationship with a family, who's Countess has lost her faith in God following the death of her young son. During a rabid conversation, a back and forth, the priest finally makes the Countess see the error of her thinking and restores her faith - a victory for the priest who has had nothing but troubles and self doubt since arriving in the country. The following night, the Countess dies, sending the priest whirling back into a sort of depression.


What is it with these agnostic directors who feel the need to constantly explore religion, even though they're famous for having nothing to do with religion in their personal lives? I mean, if I were an atheist and a filmmaker too, I certainly wouldn't be making films about Catholic priests and such. However, I am kind of a sucker for the faithless priest storyline (which is best told by an atheist - see Winter Light) yet that's not exactly what this is. Sure, the priest of Ambricourt has his moments of self doubt, but it's never really established as to whether he completely loses his faith or only falters - there's no clues to 100% confirm either hypothesis. I started out kind of liking this one: a priest arrives in the country to take the reigns of a new parish. We're getting tons of narration, which is superbly written (be it from the source material or an addendum from Bresson) and perfectly spoken by Laydu. I seem to recall speaking negatively recently about excessive narration (in fact, I believe it was with a Scorsese picture. Is this where he got his penchant for narration - from Bresson?), however with Bresson, he really makes the narration work better than if the actors were actually speaking. In fact, with Diary of a Country Priest I looked forward to the narration parts and after a while, began to dread the scenes that required actual acting. Not that the acting was bad, though.

I was with this one right up until about the forty minute mark and then I started to slip out from between it's grasp. I just lost touch with all of the characters and realized that the story had really gone as far as it was going to go. I mean, nothing REALLY happens, does it? We're just given this priest who spends his final days on this countryside, being the best that he can be and speaking his last words - "What does it matter - all is grace". What does that mean? Did he finally realize with his dying breath that God doesn't exist or that it doesn't matter if he exists or doesn't exist? "It doesn't matter if he exists or not, all is grace either way"? Perhaps or perhaps I'm way off - who knows. I can say, I really didn't have enough of an attachment to the movie to start making guesses as to what the final lines mean, just like I don't have enough of an attachment to Citizen Kane to make guesses as to what Rosebud means, same thing. I tried really hard with this one and I wanted to like it, I really did. Ultimately, however, I just slipped away and at a certain point, the film lost me and I can't even go so far as to call it average.

RATING: 4.5/10  Here's hoping that "A Man Escaped" is everything I want it to be and blows both this and Pickpocket out of the water. Why do I have this feeling that I'm going to get burned, though?


August 6, 2014  10:50pm


  1. Oh gosh.. Perhaps I've been looking at some of Bresson's stuff in the wrong way. I'd failed to read that he counts as an Agnostic.. I thought he was quite a person of faith. So I watched this believing it to be an attack on the characters who didn't just accept 'The Word' and go with it. If they stopped doubting, they would be ok, God would be there for them and make them well in the world.
    You have given me food for thought..
    I am awaiting with interest your posting on 'Man escaped'.. and especially 'Au Hazzard Balthazr'. (probably splet very badly)

    1. Ok maybe I'm wrong. I thought I read somewhere that he was agnostic and now I can't find any resource that says he is, Why did I think that? Thanks for setting me straight Ray, although if someone could shine a little more light on Bresson's religious beliefs or lack thereof, I'd be appreciative.


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