Friday, October 18, 2013

Jean-Pierre Melville: Léon Morin, prêtre / Léon Morin, Priest

With Léon Morin, prêtre / Léon Morin, Priest (1961), Jean-Pierre Melville delivers a strong adaptation of Béatrix Beck's 1952 novel, Léon Morin, prêtre (English edition, The Passionate Heart). It's so good, so interesting. 

Moving at a novel's pace, Melville showcases more dialogue than is typical of his other films, and to good effect. With a tense backdrop (a town in occupied France during the Second World War), the main characters build an intense personal relationship in which they discuss spiritual matters, including aspects of Catholicism, Judaism and "heresy." And, how best can people live during wartime and at all times? To hook contemporary audiences these days, the main character (a widow with a daughter named France) has a crush on another woman and also on a certain priest. How will this play out?
Jean-Paul Belmondo (À bout de souffle / Breathless) as Léon Morin and Emmanuele Riva (Hiroshima mon amour) as Barny are both in top form. What a delight. If a grade had to be assigned, A+ all the way. The clear black and white Criterion Collection DVD includes deleted scenes, allowing one to glimpse ways Jean-Pierre Melville chose not to go with the completed film.

Finally, it appears that most or all of Béatrix Beck's novels are out of print, and most have not been translated into English at all. Seems like an ideal project to bring them back to life in the 21st century. 

Today's Rune: Partnership.    

1 comment:

jodi said...

Erik-sounds like an interesting one. As an old Catholic, these storylines are always intriguing.