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"Diary of a Country Priest" in One Shot

Robert Bresson's 1951 drama of the faith and anguish of a country priest encapsulated in a single shot.
Jeremy Carr
One Shot is a series that seeks to find an essence of cinema history in one single image of a movie. Robert Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest (1951) is showing May 4 - June 2, 2020 in the United Kingdom.
Diary of a Country Priest
A pattern of loneliness extends throughout the concise and remarkably consistent cinema of Robert Bresson. Afflicting the young and old, rich and poor, the sinners and saints—this insular, often confused condition leaves characters to autonomously endure the anxieties of an exacting environment. Both complicating and enriching this recurrent theme, however, is the fact few of these individuals are ever literally alone. They are almost always engaged, to varying degrees, with a perpetual circle of personified kindness, cruelty, and indifference. Such is the case with Claude Laydu’s priest of Ambricourt, the eponymous cleric of Bresson’s 1951 meditation on tested faith and crippling anguish, Diary of a Country Priest. Whether he is seeking treatment for a debilitating stomach ailment or tending to his parish, the priest is regularly in the company of others. Although his solitary nights are spent in a sparse, decrepit residence, where the pain of his more intimate isolation becomes nearly unbearable, he nevertheless pursues assorted endeavors and does his part to live up to an occupational calling. As during the funeral for a local doctor, Bresson’s troubled priest is a generally public figure, necessarily so. But most are blind to his clandestine distress; many are, rather, maliciously critical, upsetting an already “wounded soul.” In this personal-private dichotomy of individual bearing, one finds a rarefied Bressonian gift: the ability to convey—exclusively to the viewer—the ordinarily veiled suffering of his complex characters. Via Bresson’s solemn, precise direction and a revelatory voice-over of inner reckoning, we are continually placed in a privileged position of insightful identification, bearing witness to a broad psychological portrait left obscured or ignored by our diegetic counterparts. Whether they are surrounded by many or even just a single trusted confidant, only we are privy to the breadth of inner turmoil that motivates and confines the quintessential Bresson lead.

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