Journal d'un curé de campagne (Diary of a Country Priest) Reviews
August 4, 2014
A film that grew in my estimation in the months after I saw it. A masterpiece.
March 25, 2014
Country Priest from 1950 directed by Robert Bresson is a very faithful adaptation of the novel of the same name by Georges Bernanos. It centers around a young priest who has taken over a parish in Ambicourt. This film is very faithful to the novel in that it keeps the key moments of the book intact, and plays as a conversation between a man and God. Bresson's take is very straightforward, yet this is where the genius lies - because it allows someone who's familiar with its source material to see just how well the original novel plays on film. If someone were to ask, is it possible to translate a religious vision on film?, they would be answered with a yes by anyone who has seen this film. The film maintains a deep respect for the divine - by some, it has been dubbed "the greatest Catholic film of all time". It accurately shows the struggles of being a young Priest, and devoting one's life to God. Critic Jean Talard has said about the film, [regarding Claude Laydu as the Priest] "...no other actor deserves to go to heaven as much as Laydu.", and that clearly comes across on screen. Sensitive, yet unapologetic in his beliefs, Laydu does a better job at portraying the priest than I could with my own thoughts. What is one without their faith? The film begs us to ponder. The film thinks on simplistic living, one that a Priest would take up, and shows its goodness as well as its hard moments. At the same time, the film never upholds the role of a Priest in any pantheon above another occupation - it understands that the clergy has their place in society, and that it is just as respectable as being a carpenter or fisherman. Bresson uses brilliant performances to draw us in, understanding that the essence of the film is a parallel to the Christ story. A man comes to love and serve, does so, and yet is rejected by many and dies; and while he is suffering, he learns to love God even more deeply.
Creatively, Bresson and Laydu combine to do great, but simple things for the camera. An establishing shot of the parish has Laydu walking behind a metal gate, evoking his isolation immediately to the audience. The camera only moves at moments of faith, or regarding it, and it always looks up to the Priest - signaling again that he is living like the Son of God he so desperately serves. Bresson stays simple with his style, creating compositions that are meant to always keep focus on the Priest. He likes shadow, and uses it sparingly, as much of the film takes place during the day. Bresson also constantly fades to black, and many critics see this as a literal "opening of the eyes" as if the film is us viewing the life of this Priest from afar. The breaking of every scene by fading adds a good sense of pace to the film, and also creates a good sense of time. It's been said that this film had a significant impact on Martin Scorcese and his breakthrough film, Taxi Driver (a favorite of mine) - and I can totally see why. This film, like the former, is about a man searching for justice. Isolated, neglected, yet determined to do find happiness and solace in life. Laydu always seems solemn, quiet and deep in thought. He seems to be contemplating the "big questions" constantly, such as, What is the role of the Priest? Is it okay to fear losing my faith? He fleshes out the priest by giving him a face, body language, and that helps give the audience empathy for the character. Critic Dennis Schwartz has stated that, "[Diary of a Country Priest] can be viewed as the closest thing to a religious experience in film." Notice that in the entire film, Laydu only smiles once, when he goes to see the doctor, in hopes that he'll be okay. He always talks to God, and God's presence is felt through the entire narrative. Like the book, the film spends a lot of time speaking from the Priest's diary, literally showing us write out the passages he speaks for us in voiceover. The diary acts as his tangible way to hold onto his faith, the symbol of all he is living for. We all project ourselves into some inanimate object, whether it's for nostalgia or safety. The film draws its power from the source material, without feeling preachy. This is a deep film that is probably asking for a second viewing, and I intend to do just that. I will continue to think on the film's final line of dialogue, for which it is most famous.
November 15, 2013
Whenever I watch a Bresson film, I always feel that there is something I'm not quite grasping, that is just out of my reach. I think it may be a theological principle related to "grace" or "salvation" that I never learned, whereby characters who suffer tremendously, needlessly, and often not as a result of any of their own actions (e.g., Balthazar or Mouchette) attain some sort of spiritual transcendence (thanks perhaps to a benevolent Christian god). I'm not quite sure how these things work together but they appear consistently in Bresson's oeuvre. In this film, his later style of focusing the camera on the small details of hands at work on sometimes mundane tasks and on the often serious but blank faces of the non-actor protagonists is only beginning to crystalize (his next film, A Man Escaped, is a masterpiece). Still, there is an intensity that grows from the camera's singular preoccupation with Claude Laydu who plays a young priest taking over his first parish in a French country town full of hostility toward him. He keeps a diary in which he reports (in voiceover) the events that unfold as he attempts to resolve a family's spiritual and moral crisis. He is sick and his grasp on consciousness and possibly reality seems tenuous. We never know if he is making the right decisions and he does not seem to know himself. Nevertheless, he seems to achieve "grace" by persevering in his course despite suffering, both physical and in his duties.
November 2, 2013
This is the second Robert Bresson film I've featured in this series (with two more left to discuss) which is no coincidence because Bresson really is among the very greatest French directors.
In his films, he explores a criminal, a prisoner, and even a donkey. And in Diary of a Country Priest, he explores the life of a pious man surrounded by cruelty.
I am not a religious person, but Bresson depicts his "little priest" in such a way that one cannot help but feel sympathetic for a man who lives his faith in a world that has none. By the end, I was mesmerized and deeply moved by this simple story.
September 6, 2011
Bresson's minimalist scope in his masterful and ahead-of-its-time essay on fortitude, faith and humanity allows us to appreciate how many directors including Tarkovsky, Bergman, Buñuel, Vlácil and even Scorsese grew up admiring this legendary milestone of metaphysical proportions. Exclusively aimed towards those that recognize cinema as an art and search for several perspectives regarding the most trascendent questions of our existence, Journal d'un Curé de Campagne punches the soul of its viewer with a catastrophic magnitude.
March 16, 2013
Classic movies don't always work for everyone, and this one unfortunately didn't work for me. I couldn't relate to the topic, I couldn't relate to the protagonist, and I couldn't relate to the pace of this film. Maybe I'll watch it again later, and see whether I missed something.
February 7, 2013
The trials of tribulations of a well intentioned young man trying to make it as a priest. Sort of does for priests what "The Right Stuff" does for astronauts- forces you to respect and admire them. Robert Bresson's films may be slow going but once they get into you, they get into you, right to the core of your being.
January 30, 2013
The chronicles of the life of a Priest in a small French country town. Bresson's film is structured in a very influential way and photographed masterfully, in a way that makes the film looks wonderful but tastefully stands back and avoids being obtrusive on the film's storyline and meaning. Furthermore, Diary of a Country Priest has this feeling of being a powerfully human film, whether it is taken as one of the most compelling on screen representations of priesthood even to this day, or whether it is takes more simply as the story of a man seeking salvation.
December 26, 2012
An excellent written film.
March 23, 2012
A superior film.
He had a tres sympathique quality, like Roddy McDowall. It wanders a bit, and indulges in some self-obsession, but the movie is strong.
Also, Chantal is among the most evil movie villains of all time.
Bresson is the anti-Bergman. He asks important questions, but without concluding a nihilism he's inevitably already assumed. Great work!
May 28, 2012
Absolutely stunning account of a priest (Claude Laydu) who has an assortment of problems to deal with in his life. First, he is unable to communicate with those to which he serves in the community, leaving him to become inferior to everyone he knows. Two, those in the community feel that he is inconsistent with his help and support, leading to significant contentions between the townspeople and himself. Finally, his health, of which his constant diet of wine and bread is leading to a serious deterioration in his strength, well-being, and his ability to work. He finally decides to leave to go and live with his brother, who will aid to him until he succumbs to his illness. Emotionally draining and perplexing drama that may be one of the greatest movies to involve priests. Laydu is superb as the priest that consumed in pain, loneliness, and frustration. A truly masterful work!
May 27, 2012
My first foray into Bresson's extensive cannon of films. Toted as the most accessible of his films; which means that there is a lot of head scratching to come, because this is not a straight forward movie by any stretch of the imagination.
Filled with dialogue that necessitates quite a bit of reading which requires a certain level of commitment from the audience. I found the directors style quite distinctive. Especially how he went out of his way to tone the film down. From the understated performances to focusing on the aftermath of an important moment rather than the scene itself. Very precise with his camera placement and he loves fading in and out of scenes.
There is quite a lot of symbolism - most of which I missed. From what I could pick up and what I've read it deals with life being a healthy mix of the earthly and the divine and the one can not be without the other.
Not the easiest of films to watch, but required viewing if you appreciate good cinema.
May 20, 2012
Tad dry in parts, but still very well done.
May 6, 2012
words cannot describe the beauty of this picture.
March 10, 2012
Although Robert Bresson made three films before he made Diary of a Country Priest, this is called his first film because it's the first one where we see his famous trades mark that is so highly admired by many filmmakers, with it's realistic humanistic themed films, with natural lightning, sound and use of amateur actors which he call models.
This is the story about the young priest, who is remained nameless who arrives as the new towns priest in a small village named Ambricourt where he faces many challenges and seems not to fit in or understand the towns inhabitants. He's also don't feeling very well, his health is getting worse, while at the same time just eating bread and wine which doesn't makes it better.
To be honest I didn't think to much about this film. It was slow, and the dialogue and acting seed kind of hallowed, i didn't feel very much whating it, I though it would be more realistic and naturalistic, while the narration makes it even less. Thumbs down.
February 25, 2012
Bresson's first masterpiece is probably his saddest and most melancholy film.
February 9, 2012
A film that embodies grace and the struggle for redemption, deeply moving when one is willing to fall into its wordless power.
January 29, 2010
I know "Diary of a Country Priest" is a universally renowned classic but, sorry, I really did not enjoy this much. I can't relate to wallowing in this sort of miserable piety, and the lead actor has the same dazed, wounded expression on his face throughout the entire film. I have a pet peeve about overuse of narration which this movie certainly violated, and the shapeless, orchestral smears of the score seem quite maudlin and old-fashioned today. I can easily imagine someone else raving about how delicate and lovely Bresson's directing touch is, but I was counting the minutes until the finish. If I crave an old film about a troubled priest, I'll reach for "Nazarin" or "Winter Light" instead.
April 23, 2011
Very poor cinematic-ally , in that ideas have to be conveyed by words being read from a diary. Terribly distances the audience. Hokey. Poor acting. The priest is basically expressionless or sad almost all the time. Hard to believe this impressed anyone. Unbelievable that this priest impresses the countess and her daughter. Perhaps it would appeal to philosophers that debate the concept of "Grace." Lighting and makeup were too stagey, so that did not help to involve me.