Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Essential Cinema - 7

French Language with English Sub-Titles

Diary of a French Priest

Claude Laydu
Jean Riveyre
André Guibert
Rachel Bérendt
Nicole Maurey
Nicole Ladmiral
Martine Lemaire

Robert Bresson

Robert Bresson

Léonce-Henri Burel

The memories of a young Vicar in a rural French town document the shallow and callus lives of the adults in the community, set against the innocence and growing realizations of its youth.

Depression is the first thing that comes to mind. This isn't a very uplifting film, even on a spiritual level. It is extremely intimate, drawing the viewer into the mind of the priest and his discovery of the pain and angst of the townspeople that he is sent to over-see. Hollywood has rarely made this type of film. It has to do more with the examination of the soul and the complexities of the human experience.

This film is interesting because it is different from most American cinema. It shows that cinematic story telling can be a personal and introspective art as opposed to a neat plot that is resolved in 90 minutes. For anyone struggling with the complexities of life this would be a good film to see and ponder. In the end, all the things we fuss over have little bearing on the big picture.

The soft focus black and white print gives an almost impressionistic tone at the beginning of the film. The story moves smartly with short direct scenes that build characters and set the mood. There are no long takes or establishing shots. It is a very terse film, with minimal dialog. The lives of the rural French community are woven together/discovered by the timid priest who is thrust into their midst. The film shows how other cultures think and what they find important and meaningful.

In the film's setting the priest is a standard figure of society, much like a postman or fireman, he is the living conscience of the community. The central character is similar to the Catholic Priest played by Spencer Tracy in "Boy's Town", only less dynamic and more introverted. He searches for the meaning of life amongst the cynical souls of rural France where gossip and back stabbing appear to be the norm. All in all a depressing film with a very thin plot. Mostly an introspective character study of the lives of troubled people and their failure to find salvation. There isn't a lot of resolution in the story, just a certain amount of realization on the part of the characters.