You would not associate the dashing young Jean-Paul Belmondo with the role of a priest. His nose appears more suited to the profession of a pugilist rather than a priest! But this is the world of film, and a priest is what he plays! What is more surprising. is that he does it rather well! Using the same rational you would probably not think Jean-Pierre Melville would be the director of this "thinking mans romance". If someone had mentioned his name to me a couple of months ago I may at a stretch have recalled he made a few gangsters films, but would have been hard pressed to name any one film. But this film is emphatic proof that he was perfectly capable of making a fine film outside of his favourite genre.
In the film Emmanuele Riva, very fetching in bobby socks, plays Barny an attractive sexually frustrated widow. Barny is a communist militant with her own strong view of life. Set during the Italian/German occupation in a French village in the Alps she takes whatever is the easiest route to make life easy. But her life is changed when she makes a random visit to a priest for confession, in order to give him, "a piece of her mind". But this confessional does not go to plan, and she finds herself meeting him for further intellectual religious discussions. As time goes on she becomes inexoraby and irressistably drawn to him. But is the feeling reciprocated? Could this one sided romance be doomed from the beginning?
If you are a person who likes some action in his films, then forget it, this is not for you. This makes "The Antiques Roadshow" look like an action fest! Much of the filming takes place in the priests spartan little room, where the two discuss/spar religion in some lively little encounters that would illuminate many a mid week bible study group. All the sexual chemistry is cleverly implied, which has the effect of sending out even more sparks between the couple. Belmondo is a man who takes his vows seriously. He is pursued by a number of attractve young women in the Brigitte Bardot mould, who use all the feminine wiles at their disposal to seduce him. It is as if he is being tempted with a desert experience like the one who he so faithfully serves endured. But this priest is made of flesh and blood. It is apparent from his meagre possessions that he does not covet wealth. As the story progresses Melville manages to produce electricity from the simple brushing together of the couple. It is this subtlety that lifts this film above the ordinary romance into something greater. Melville has crafted something very different and shows his creative ability outside of the gangster film. It is sad that his early death robbed us of the possibility of seeing more films like this from him.