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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Diary of a Country Priest [DVD] [1951]
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 22 June 2014
Diary Of A Country Priest is one of Bresson's most powerful films. For me, the nameless priest is a beacon of sincerity and humility. He has the gentleness of the lamb (Zurbaran ... ), and much compassion. Bresson focuses only on what is essential in his dealings with others, and on his solitude in his first parish where nobody wants him. Everything is filtered through a fairly small number of characters, usually seen individually, and the community seems diffuse, with no hub or sense of mutual concern. His superior, the curé de Torcy, doesn't even live there, nor possibly does the doctor, Delbende. The main character's comings and goings, often covering the same ground on his way to the chateau, for instance, are set to a Brucknerian score that seems quite lavish in relation to the rest of the film, and to many of Bresson's other films, where music tends to be used sparingly. Here it carries the sense of the priest's inner self and gives it outward expression, a counterpoint to his diary entries which we both see and hear in his voice. All his exchanges with others tend to be quite terse. The one with the Countess has a rigour that is quite exhilarating, really - almost expansive within its strict terms - as it is not an easy spirituality that is being explored, and thus all phonyness is avoided. Rather, it speaks of an elevation of the soul through arduousness, triumphing even over his physical agony at the end, from which the camera discreetly turns away. Nevertheless, it is a very moving conclusion. The sobriety of the acting is striking, with Claude Laydu making an indelible impression as the hapless man of God, accepting the inevitable with altruism and selflessness.
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on 21 July 2017
Not exactly great fun but completely satisfying!
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on 11 August 2007
"Diary of a country priest" (1951), directed by Robert Bresson and based on a well-known novel by Georges Bernanos, is a beautiful masterpiece in black and white. Regarding this film, Bresson said that "(...) I wasn't faithful to the style of Bernanos, and I omitted details which I disliked. But I was faithful to the spirit of the book and to what it inspired in me as I read it".

This film recounts the spiritual journey of a new priest (played by Claude Laydu) that has to face unfriendly people in his first parish at the same time he suffers from ill health and doubts regarding his faith. The story is told mainly thanks to journal entries, something that allows the spectator to be privy to the priest's inner thoughts, and struggle with him when he faces different kinds of problems.

As you can probably imagine, it is not easy to watch this film. Nonetheless, I strongly recommend it, as Bresson manages to capture the anguish and fierceness of the battle played in this young man's heart, and show us that interior drama in excruciating detail.

Belen Alcat
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VINE VOICEon 2 August 2009
A young Priest goes to a French rural village and is disliked by the villagers.He has an unknown stomach ailment and is weak and ailing,living on a diet of bread, soaked in sugar and wine.Being austere and idealistic he wants to save souls.People want things for nothing,like a rich farmer,old Fabregars, who wants a cheap no-cost funeral for his wife.The aristocratic family draw him in to their web of problems,the wife,the mistress,the daughter.He is told by a priestly mentor to change his eating habits.He is often faint and morose.He needs to toughen up and not expect to be loved but give spiritual discipline.He has the masochistic misery of a martyr.

He identifies with Christ at Golgotha.Bresson shows the priest as isolated and lonely,in need of love, and approval.He highlights this aspect, by showing him behind glass,seen through window frames.It may be raining or snowing outside but he is trapped in his cell,imprisoned in his own mind.He is drawn to similarly lonely people: the Countess,Seraphita,Chantal and Dr.Delbende.The Journal and the voiceover are Bresson's primary means to detail the Priest of Ambricourt's inner life.The very real writing of pen on paper, is a repetitive ritual throughout the film, blotting, scratching, closing: capturing the soul's immaterial thoughts,ideas and emotions.Similarly the raking of the ground outside mirrors the lining of his stomach.He is a psychological misfit.

He is mocked and tormented by his favoured student,Seraphita,at catechism classes.The Count dislikes him interfering with his family.He tells the Count his barn is empty and field is barren, and could be put to more productive uses for the villagers.He has been asked by the Governess, Louise,to intercede in a conflict involving her pupil,Chantal,the Count's daughter.Chantal tests the priest's compassion, by threatening suicide,she is manipulative, and pours scorn on the priest.In the film's most central scene, he is drawn into ministering to the Countess, imparting his suspicions about Chantal.He admits he fears death, but says he fears her death more.She is tormented and grieves for the loss of her son.He succeeds in helping her find inner peace.He admits the miracle of being able to give what he doesn't have himself.Chantal,unable to comprehend the change in her mother, misinterprets his actions as cruel,and begins to denounce the idealistic priest.

Bresson's film shows a visual metaphor of the spiritual life through his physical malady and the journal entries, the use of long and short shots,the harsh reality of the existence of a man of faith in a secular world.He is slowly consumed by stomach cancer as we learn later. The emotional power builds up through use of minimal dialogue and camera- in- face shots-the man's final moments distilled and captured in a single shot. The final image of an isolated cross encapsulates the profound suffering of this nameless priest.His last words:"What does it matter?All is grace".The priest is free at last.Based on a novel by Bernanos,given treatment of a high order.
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on 23 July 2014
Robert Bresson's 1950 masterpiece Diary of a Country Priest (Journal d'un curé de campagne) is a film which has achieved legendary status largely due to many (Andrei Tarkovsky and Martin Scorsese among them) claiming it to be an important and inspiring contribution to the religious discourse of our time. It was Bresson's third feature and the one that defines the way his future films will be. Texturally, this is the first of two adaptations of the Catholic monarchist writer Georges Bernanos (the second will be Mouchette) and the first of three consecutive films which will be narrated in a first person voice-over. The narratives of A Man Escaped (1956), Pickpocket (1959) and this one are all the stories of one man's spiritual odyssey through doubt and failure to ultimate redemptive grace told as written (or as written later) so as to give us a profound look into the character's soul. Visually, the film announces the stark, spare austerity which will be a Bresson trademark from hereon in. The cinematographer Léonce-Henri Burel shot all the films from here through to The Trial of Joan of Arc (1962) and there is a certain uniformity of look though Bresson does temper his visual treatment according to his material - he always saw himself as a `cinematographer' rather than a `director' and each film was the start of a new investigation for him. Nevertheless, the grey mundane focus on `process' rather than `result' is omnipresent with seemingly bizarre framing and an eschewing of grand spectacle well to the fore. In relation to this, this film also announces the rejection of professionals in favor of amateur `models'. The only professional actor in the film is Rachel Bérendt who plays the countess. Claude Laydu was the first model to announce the stunning success of Bresson's technique for though he is forced to look blank and expressionless throughout the film without any noticeable `acting' he still delivers an extraordinarily vulnerable performance which is seen by many as one of the very best in any motion picture.

In some ways Diary of a Country Priest is a transitional work throwing back as it does to the style of Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (1945). Melodrama is not totally eschewed as the priest wanders around his parish and we are given confrontational scenes which work in the traditional manner along with an overt Brucknerian musical score from Jean-Jacques Grünenwald which is used consistently throughout. Music will gradually disappear from Bresson's films until the complete silence of L'Argent (1983). Au hasard Balthazar (1966) is the last film where music is omnipresent and the director later regretted he used Schubert there so much.

Put basically, Bresson's concern was always with the basic metaphysics underpinning the human condition - the reasons we live, the factors that propel human life from birth to death and beyond. As I have outlined in my other Bresson reviews his aesthetic is informed by Catholicism, in his case the peculiar French strain of predestinarian Jansenism. In a Bresson film protagonists function in any given narrative to fulfill whatever has been predestined for them to fulfill. They have no free will of their own and usually the film charts a journey which becomes in effect an unknowing search for spiritual redemption, for grace. Conventional character psychology has no place in a Bresson work - it doesn't matter what happens between life and death, the result will be the same - such is the nature of predestination. Throughout the protagonists will be `acted on' from on high as they are guided towards their fate. Diary of a Country Priest is the first Bresson film to really state all of this fully. If we compare the priest with the characters of Fontaine (A Man Escaped), Michel (Pickpocket), Jeanne (The Trial of Joan of Arc), the donkey Balthazar (Au hasard Balthazar) and Mouchette we find he is just one in a succession of surrogates for Jesus Christ negotiating the 7 Stations of the Cross on the way to Calvary and to an ultimate attainment of redemptive grace.

A negotiation of the 7 stations of the cross in a Bresson film necessitates a confrontation of the main character with the 7 deadly sins - lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride which should be (but mostly aren't) counter-balanced by the seven Catholic virtues - chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness and humility. This confrontation is faced head-on when the priest (Laydu) arrives in Normandy to take charge of his first parish having just qualified as a priest. The first thing to greet him through a barred gate is the Baron (Jean Riveyre ) kissing the governess (Nicole Maurey) of his daughter. The Baron looks at him as if he is an intruder and walks away without greeting. This `lust' is quickly followed by the `greed' of a rich landowner who refuses to pay the full price for his wife's funeral even though he can afford to; the `gluttony' of a serviceman who having told the priest he may receive electricity in his house after 3-4 months puts his efforts into arranging dance parties so the locals can binge themselves to his great profit; the `wrath' of his immediate superior the Priest of Torcy (Adrian Borel) who tells our hapless priest off for being too naïve; the `envy' and the `pride' of the Baron's daughter Chantal (Nicole Ladmiral) who can't understand his power to make the Baroness (Rachel Bérendt) get over the loss of her son and see the light of the Lord. Her mother's subsequent death gives her a chance to assert her `pride'. As inheritor of the estate she forces her father to send the governess away and to keep everything for herself.

Faced with an awful barrage of sin, the priest is shaken to the core of his being. He arrives at his parish already feeling sick with some vague kind of stomach complaint and we acknowledge his probable destiny. As he wanders from sinner to sinner constantly being used and abused he clings to his faith as a cripple might cling to his crutches. He only allows himself to consume dried bread soaked in red wine - transubstantiation evoking the Eucharist - God's body and spirit which he naively thinks is all he needs. But of course he wastes away and as the villagers turn on him (especially after the death of the countess which many - egged on by the daughter - suggest he caused) his consumption of wine is misinterpreted as alcoholism. This misinterpretation possibly turns into truth when he is forced to leave his parish and go to Lille to get a diagnosis of his medical condition. He learns he is in the last stages of stomach cancer. A long scene in a bar is followed by a visit to an old friend from the seminary who became a priest at the same time but has since given up the faith and is now living in sin with a woman who won't marry him. It is there that he spends his last days, eventually dying in complete apparent abjection. And yet as related right at the end through his friend's letter read out while Bresson's camera points at the shadow of a cross on the wall he still has faith and therefore has still lived the `right' life. As he famously says: "What does it matter? All is grace".

The mise-en-scène that Bresson deploys throughout this film to tell his metaphysical fable is extraordinarily concise in the way it stresses insistently how the priest is imprisoned within his own ascetic world which is cut-off from the real world in which he has to live. Note the very first sequence when he arrives. We see a close up of his face and then a shot of him through the bars of the chateau gate. Then we see the Baron and the governess kissing and the Baron's `keep your nose out of our business' look. We see at the very beginning that the priest is not welcome and will never be welcome. He will always be shut out, ostracized and marginalized. Also, of course, despite his huge efforts to try to get close to the villagers, he will always be shut in by the very nature of his appearance, his health, his inexperience as a priest and his naïve attitude to those around him. Throughout the film Bresson shoots the priest through latticed windows, doorways and in confined spaces. This use of imprisonment came to the fore in Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne and will appear through the rest of his films. Usually this gives voice to the universal metaphysical yearning for freedom, for personal betterment, for spiritual rejuvenation, for release from one's constraints whether they be social, marital, material or of another kind. In this film the constraints are both imposed from outside (the village refusing to accept him) and from inside (his weakness at grasping and adapting to practicalities which could make his vocation easier).

The most interesting scene of the film is the one where the priest talks to the Baroness and scores the only `success' during his stay in this parish. The language is difficult and perhaps only Catholics will grasp the whole meaning. The situation is that the woman is living effectively alone. Her husband carries on affairs with other women while her daughter disrespects and ignores her. The only thing she has to cling onto is her love of her dearly departed - her son. No doubt this was the reason which turned her daughter against her and it has also made her into a selfish, withdrawn miserable wretch. And yet the priest makes her see the error in her ways (`sloth' perhaps) and the woman gradually is convinced so that she throws a locket containing a picture of her son into the fire. The priest quickly rescues it. At this point we hear the sound of raking coming from outside the window. Bresson cuts to show the daughter listening. The way she looks is the very picture of evil. It is as if the sound of the rake announces the arrival of Satan who will undermine the `goodness' done by the priest. Sure enough that night the Baroness dies and the daughter has spread the false rumor that the priest forced her to throw her locket into the fire. Instantly the whole village community is against him and his position is made untenable. The scene is obviously a Biblical parable demonstrating the hopelessness of preaching goodness in a spiritually polluted environment. In a world which is bad, to be good is bad and that is how the priest is made to feel. There is also the question of how the Countess died. Did she commit suicide having reconciled herself with God (in which case the priest did in a sense cause her death), or did her daughter see the chance to kill her mother off to inherit the estate and get rid of her father's lover? Bresson offers no firm answer, but the result is the priest's realization that his work in the parish is impossible and that he is literally being driven to an early death.

Bresson's film is rife with obscure religious references - the angel Seraphita (Martine Lemaire) who seems to rescue him after he falls down into the mud one night, the deep conversation he has with the Baron's son Olivier (Jean Danet) who is a member of the foreign legion and describes how people can be religious without having to dress up and pontificate like priests, his congregation of one person who writes telling him he should go way, the children who tease him while learning about the Eucharist, Chantal's `half-confession' from the box but to a priest who stands before her rather than one who is hidden behind a grill. I am not Catholic and cannot fully connect with this film `from within'. However, the priest's sufferings and the negotiation of the 7 Stations is an extraordinary spiritual journey and is very moving as a consequence. We watch this simpleton priest go about his business in the manner of Prince Myshkin from Dostoyevsky's The Idiot or of the priest Father Nazario from Luis Buñuel's 1958 masterpiece Nazarín and feel nothing but profound pity for him and outrage at the horrors of the world he confronts. This is of course the world in which we live in as well and as the narrative is driven by a first person voice-over we feel completely for the character. Of all the characters in Bresson's films he is the only one to be accredited the same level of goodness and purity also allowed the donkey Balthazar and the saint Jeanne. The film may initially seem to be unbearably preachy and `starkly Catholic', but I urge viewers to watch it a couple of times. Give it some effort and you will be rewarded I'm sure. For me the film represents the spiritual essence of Bresson's world and is one of his most outstanding works.

This Optimum World Studio Canal release is outstanding. The digitalization is very successful. The images (aspect ratio 1.33:1 - 4:3) and mono sound are both ideally clear. Again one laments the complete absence of any extras. Of all Bresson's films this is the one in most need of a little explanation. Catholics may cotton on immediately to all the religious references, but for the rest of us it is rather hard to enter Bresson's world here. A little help from a sympathetic documentary or an informed commentary is surely essential for a film of this level of complexity. Never mind, the film is still an essential addition to your collection. The priest's emotional odyssey in a quest for spiritual grace is a journey I feel everyone, whatever their religious faith can relate to. Claude Laydu's performance is one which will stay with you forever once you have accessed Bresson's extraordinary world.
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on 1 May 2011
In the end it just might be the best film by Bresson. You might not think it first few minutes into the film watching in disbelief Claude Laydu's anemic sickly performance and speech. One might only adjudge it so from our point in time. But a man's life was not always hard-paced with cell phones and spent dodging bullets from aliens. At a point in time there used to be such a thing as a soul and all kinds of worries that went with it. Gene splicing put an end to it but there is always such a thing as nostalgia. Modern age might have killed the soul but the yearning for it in humans cannot be erased. Having seen this film several times I may say it never failed to move me deeply.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 22 January 2016
Robert Bresson’s 1951 film, based on the novel of the same name by Georges Bernanos, is another stark portrayal of this most original of film-makers’ take on humanity and spirituality. Alongside his 1962 film The Trial Of Joan Of Arc, Diary is probably Bresson’s most overtly 'religious’ film, two films with similar themes, here telling the story of Claude Laydu’s ailing priest’s arrival in a small remote village, but whose 'rejection’ by the local populace is rather more subtle and ambiguous than that portrayed in the later film. Diary is also particularly notable as being the first film in which Bresson started using first-time actors, including Laydu, whose performance, along with Florence Delay’s turn in Joan, is the most spellbinding that I have witnessed in any Bresson film. Indeed, despite having a number of 'first-timers’ here, the acting (which is consistently impressive) does not get near the 'minimal robotic’ style in some of the film-maker’s later films, instead retaining a degree of naturalism. This was also the first film on which Bresson collaborated with cinematographer Léonce-Henri Burel, whose unfussy black-and-white look suits the film’s austere themes perfectly.

Bresson has provided cinema with some of its most powerfully moving depictions of 'alienated outsiders’ – including Joan, Mouchette’s titular character and even Balthazar the donkey – and Laydu here turns in a performance of amazing subtlety and complexity (kindliness, thoughtfulness, self-doubt, confusion, despair, etc) for a novice actor, as his priest’s good intentions are misinterpreted and frowned upon by the local aristocracy and the man of the cloth is unable to find spiritual solace even among those he considers should be 'trusted advisers’ (bishop and doctor). Bresson allows us to get inside the priest’s head, thereby experiencing his angst first-hand, via his increasingly desperate voiceover diary monologue – the use of the written word playing a key role throughout, as exchanged (and unwritten) letters act as warnings to the cleric. Acting-wise, novice performers Adrien Borel, Jean Riveyre and Nicole Ladmiral are excellent as (respectively) the cynical Priest of Torcy, the duplicitous Count and his conspiring, devilish daughter Chantal, whilst Rachel Bérendt is also superb as the bereaved Countess, whose extended 'spiritual redemption’ scene with the priest is a pivotal moment in the film.

Elsewhere, Bresson adds to the priest’s confused psyche by hinting at a connection between the spiritual and physical via the troubled interloper’s decline, as well as casting further doubt on the man’s spiritual faith (and accentuating his fatalism) in two key late scenes – first, that where the priest encounters a BMW-riding motorcyclist and Foreign Legionnaire and, second, where he pays a visit to a (now lapsed) ex-seminary colleague.

It’s film whose abiding memory for me will forever be the seemingly stupefied stare of Claude Laydu’s priest – once seen never forgotten.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 13 March 2014
DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST, (1951). This black and white, classic 115 minute French film was adapted by acclaimed French director Robert Bresson, (LES DAMES DU BOIS DE BOULOGNE),from a well-known French novel by Georges Bernanos. It concerns the priest of the small French village of Ambricourt, in the vicinity of Lille .It appears to take place at an earlier time, perhaps in the 1930s, before the outbreak of World War II. The title priest, played by non-actor Claude Laydu, is a reserved and dedicated young man, new to the job, whose inability to mesh in social situations causes him to feel isolated from the very population he's supposed to be serving. His health problems add to his troubles, making him unable to carry out some of his obligations. As he grows sicker and ever more confused as to what his life really means, the priest feels himself further distanced from his village and from God. This cerebral film, Bresson’s fourth, done in the minimalist style that Bresson was to make his own, largely with amateur actors, is often considered Bresson’s first masterpiece: he both wrote the screenplay and directed. The DVD also features commentary by film historian Peter Cowie.

This film is powerful, but very, very slow. It requires close attention to detail in order to understand it. And it strongly reminds me of the Austrian Michael Haneke ‘s WHITE RIBBON, made more than 60 years later. Or, more logically, WHITE RIBBON is a reminder of this earlier French film. Both tell the story of sensitive souls crushed by the hostile, malicious inhabitants of a small isolated village. However, in Haneke’s film, we are given no explanation for the malice of the village, and particularly its children; just the thought that growing up in a village like that was enough to create Nazis. Or perhaps it was just growing up speaking German. At any rate, in DIARY, we are given an explanation; I expect from the novel upon which it is based. Several characters remark that locals in that vicinity are all hobbled by having been born descended from generations of drunks; and that, furthermore, they were also probably malnourished as children. Mind you, we had particular difficulty in this house in benefiting from this film, as, unfortunately, we were not able to turn off the intrusive commentary by Cowie. Ultimately, the only thing we could think to do was to set the TV controls to mute, thereby missing out on the atmosphere of the spoken French, and just reading the English subtitles.

Both Bresson, and Bernanos were devoted Catholics. In fact, the movie’s most famous line, "All is grace,” according to the Internet Movie Database, is a quotation from Therese de Lisieux, a saint to whom novelist Georges Bernanos was deeply devoted. Regretfully, I doubt this film would appeal to a wide, general audience, or to anyone lacking a particular interest in it: an interest in French history, or Bresson, or French film, or religious and spiritual dramas, or faith and spirituality. If you have any doubts, I’d recommend just streaming it prior to any purchase.
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on 10 March 2009
Bressons ekes out of his sparse material a deeply moving story of faith and loneliness. It is a completely original film in that the performances come about before one's eyes but seem to have no celluoid permanence, and on next viewing will reveal new and different motivations and nuances. The sufferings and yearnings of the characters are real and powerful enough, but mainly as a result of Bresson's ability to get us, the audience, to project our feelings upon the drama, investing the minimal action with rapidity and purposefulness, and so propel it to its destination. The film is one of several that, to my mind, establishes this director among that handful of all-time greats.
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on 10 October 2015
A very well-made film that tells its story in an economical, absorbing, and dramatic way. But, be warned, - all values in the film are religious values not humanistic values. The priest is a very ineffective parish priest. He is weak and ill and so bound up in himself and his prayers and his diary that he is unable to form good relations with any of his parishioners. His conversations are almost entirely with the rich squire and his household at the chateau. (Significantly all he can do for the poor children is to try ineffectually to teach them tp learn the catechism by rote.) His one success as a priest, which forms the central scene of the film, is to convince the proud countess that she has been wrong to let her life be entirely dominated by mememories of her son who died in childhood. Her absorbtion in the past has clearly prevented her from playing her proper role as wife and mother, and the life of the family has disintegrated and is now loveless. The priest does not see her fault in this light. He sees only that she has not accepted the will of God. He struggles to make her accept this view of the matter, and he succeeds. He reconciles her to God and gives her his blessing, and she dies in a state of peace and sanctity. In the priest's eyes that is a triumph, although it does absolutely nothing to undo the harm that has been done. The film ends with the death of the priest from stomach cancer. He dies in the house of a friend of his student days who now has a woman companion. When the priest finds that the pair are 'living in sin' he is roused from his dying torpor just long enough to pursuade his friend to go and see his parish priest, presumably with a view to saving their souls by getting married.
Throughout the film the priest's behaviour is governed by the dogmas and formalities of the Catholic Church. His life lacks any warm human relationships. This may be seen as his misfortune, but it is the also the result of his own shortcomings as a person. To him good human relations and human happiness are not of prime importance. His mind is on other things. The intense religious drama is drawn from the strange world of Roman Catholicism which is remote from the real world and is largely irrelevant to it. That is why to non-Catholics the film, despite its merits, may prove unsatisfying.
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