Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Diary of a Country Priest (Robert Bresson, 1951)

*****
France

Generally considered the film wherein conflicted-but-devout Christian Robert Bresson found his modernist mojo, this lucid, luminous probe into a cancerous young curate's spiritual crisis could quite comfortably be classified as a cornerstone of European art cinema. Bresson spurns traditional plot machinations and lets his [anti-]hero's murky interior life determine the course and pace of the story .
"I don't think I'm doing anything wrong in writing down daily, with absolute frankness, the simplest and most insignificant secrets of a life actually lacking any trace of mystery," announces the priest at the outset, before going on to grapple with the grave, searing and fundamental mysteries of life and death. The patience, the purity and the soft-hearted rigour with which Bresson presents these render a subdued, austere psychological battle with the epic force and wrenching fatalism of a war film.
Though he's desperately eager to engage with you both intellectually and emotionally, Bresson won't play to any of your biases. Irrespective of whether you're an atheist or a believer, Bresson won't offer you any concessions. Part of the picture's impact stems from this very attitude, which ensures that even heathens can tap into the various beauties, conflicts and transcendences of faith and a life based on religion.

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