Leon Morin, Priest (1961)

Leon Morin, Priest (Léon Morin, prêtre)
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Written by Jean-Pierre Melville based on a novel by Beatrix Beck
Concordia Compagnia Cinematografica/Rome Paris Films
First viewing/Netflix rental

“Celibacy goes deeper than the flesh.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise

This is a well-acted story about a spiritual awakening and the struggle that accompanies it.

The story begins in France in a village occupied by Italian soldiers.  Seemingly the only inhabitants are women and children.  The plot centers on Barny (Emmanuelle Riva), a young widow.  She is mightily attracted to her beautiful co-worker Sabine.  When the Germans come to take over from the Italians, Barny needs to protect her half-Jewish daughter.  She and others in a similar predicament decide baptism is the answer.

In this way, atheist Barny becomes acquainted with young priest Leon Morin (Jean-Paul Belmondo).  He senses she is searching for something and begins to meet with her regularly.  Gradually, she sees things his way and converts.  Unfortunately, their closeness sparks another forbidden desire  in Barny.

This is a quiet film, consisting mostly of conversation.  I found the talk to be interesting and the acting great so I enjoyed it.  Belmondo displays a subtlety denied him in his performances for Godard.


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