Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
Original title: Leon Morin, Pretre
France/Italy, 1961. Concordia Compagnia Cinematografica, Rome Paris Films. Screenplay and dialogue by Jean-Pierre Melville, based on the novel by Beatrix Beck. Cinematography by Henri Decae. Produced by Georges de Beauregard, Carlo Ponti. Music by Martial Solal. Production Design by Daniel Gueret. Costume Design by Paulette Breil. Film Editing by Jacqueline Meppiel.
A French village full of single women is turned upside down by the presence of a handsome young priest (Jean-Paul Belmondo) who has no intention of breaking his vows of chastity in this philosophically wry film by Jean-Pierre Melville. Emmanuelle Riva is outstanding as a young atheist whose late husband was Jewish and who decides to baptize her young daughter in order to protect her from the impending doom of World War II. Soldiers arrive to occupy their village and Riva strikes up conversations with Belmondo, telling him about her obsession with her boss at work, her rejection of religion and her desire to read the spiritually-minded books that he suggests in an effort to challenge their teachings. What ends up happening is a full-on conversion on her part, a growth in a love of God and an obsession with the priest that threatens heartbreak and disaster. It’s the sort of thing that Bergman would be fixated on later, pious men and guilty women discussing God and death ad nauseum, except that Melville doesn’t have a reverent bone in his body and the humour is much of what makes this film light, sexy and very memorable.