Jean-Paul Belmondo dons clerical robes and delivers a subtly sensual performance for the hot-under-the-collar Léon Morin, Priest, directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, about a devoted man of the cloth who is the crush object of all the women of a small village in Nazi-occupied France.
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Watching the film again nearly 8 months later, it's interesting to see this time how JPM creates a female gaze in order not to subvert the typical male gaze but to highlight the subjectivity of Barny. The fact that at the end Morin's autonomy stays in tact and his thoughts is more ambiguous than in the novel I think is what allows for the film to ultimately illustrates a male dominance typical in Melville's films.
35mm,rewatched now in DCP. Melville's camera and editing timing, especially at the level of sequential blocks and between scenes, are so good that they support a boring base material - such a beautiful walk through a strange geography. Belmondo and Riv's beauties are not strange. And also the way in Melville's movies the music is used: either as a dramatic derivation or as a sudden and quick insert of tonal climate.
The exchanges between Belmondo and Riva are fantastic. Their line delivery and physicality is a joy for any fan of acting to watch. But the movie itself is badly made. There is not a single good transition cut/edit in the film, each scene either concluding abruptly or swiping to the next sloppily. Considering how tightly made the other Melville's I've seen are, this disappoints me.
For a film about a priest that breaks down the many dogmas of Christianity, it cannot escape the dogmas of literature. Léon Morin serves as a counter-point to the humanism of Bresson and Rossellini. Maybe non-actors are not "great" actors, but they do have more truth in them. And so the film becomes a guilty pleasure, we like to watch Emmanuelle Riva and Belmondo as a priest is one the most surreal things ever seen.
Like Bresson but entertaining (not to knock Bresson). This is all about sexual and political tension inspiring spiritual aspiration. Two highly charged scenes featuring close-ups of bare feet carry tons of thematic weight. Bresson also often features feet, but they are never bare. This also has echoes of Bunuel, but maybe that is only because Belmondo as a priest is naturally surrealistic.
Melville focuses on a much more human story, driven by a confused woman trying to make sense of the world around her, and aside from some jarring editing, does it fantastically. Belmondo and Riva shine as the sexual tension rises throughout the film. A surprising gem in Melville's filmography.