Léon Morin, Priest
(Léon Morin, prêtre)
New Digital Restoration
Jean-Paul Belmondo, Emmanuelle Riva, Irène Tunc, Nicole Mirel,
Melville was one of cinema’s great modernists, a true French independent and forerunner to the New Wave. In Léon Morin, Priest, he took two actors associated with the New Wave—Jean-Paul Belmondo of Breathless and Emmanuelle Riva of Hiroshima, mon amour—and, paradoxically, created a film that has more ties to Robert Bresson than to Bob le flambeur. Casting the boyish Belmondo as a priest with a missionary bent is one of the intriguing ambiguities of this film. Riva is a Communist drawn to the cleric and, through desire, into an attempt at religious conversion. The spiritual desolation wrought by the Occupation has rarely been so sensitively delineated as in this portrait of a town suddenly exposed to its underlying social disarray. The vigor of Melville’s filmmaking, from crane shots and quick pans to caressing close-ups of obscure objects of desire, gives this contemplative film a thrilling beauty.