Léon Morin, prêtre [1961]

17Feb12 – 6 – Léon Morin, prêtre (Jean-Pierre Melville: 1961)

All indications were that I would love LÉON MORIN, PRÊTRE (1961), but I didn’t. Not really. And it’s not as if I dislike talky or didactic movies — far from it — but MORIN is too schematic, too under-dramatized, with way too much telling and not enough showing. I kept thinking of Peter Shaffer’s exercises in white-vs-black/black-vs-white (THE ROYAL HUNT OF THE SUN, EQUUS, AMADEUS), although Jean-Pierre Melville is more sophisticated than that and gives us instead white-shading-to-gray vs black-shading-to-gray in the struggle over belief in God. And a very Roman Catholic God at that.

Jean-Paul Belmondo is superb in the title role of an intellectual, ascetic, and celibate priest who…what? uses his sexual magnetism to draw man-hungry women in a small town in occupied France to God? It’s clear that Morin derives pleasure from his hold over the women in town, but the nature of that pleasure is ambiguous. The movie’s focus, however, is on Barny, a communist, atheist, crypto-Lesbian widow with two half-Jewish children, who’s drawn to God through her very real physical and intellectual attraction to the priest. Unfortunately (for me, anyway), Barny is played by Emmanuelle Riva, an actress I find it difficult to feel anything about. (Not true: I felt boredom and irritation.)

And maybe I’m just an unconverted heathen, but I really didn’t care for the rhythm of the movie. Long static scene followed by numerous extremely short scenes, each fading abruptly to black, followed by long static scene. (Yes, I exaggerate. Shoot me.) I found the herky-jerkiness of it distracting and show-offy, and if there was an aesthetic reason for it, it was lost on me. Still, I liked that it was a serious film. And then there’s Belmondo. 6/10. [2/17/12]


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