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Leon Morin, Priest (The Criterion Collection)
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Format: Blu-ray
Jean-Pierre Melville will be known by many as an "Auteur" filmmaker.

One of the few men who were a major influence on Nouvelle Vague (French New Wave), Melville was known for films that were tragic, minimalist film noir. From films such as "Les Enfants terribles" (1950), Bob Le Flambeur (1955), "Le Doulos" (1962), "Le Samorai" (1967) and "Le Circle Rouge" (1969), there was a time when he wanted to escape from it.

To no longer be known as an "Auteur maudit" and when given the opportunity to make a big-budget film, he went for it!

In 1961, he had his chance with "Léon Morin, Priest". The film is an adaptation of Beatrix Beck's 1952 novel and it would be the film that gave Melville the chance to have the money to film expensive shots and yet incorporating style from the New Wave. Attracting audiences were the inclusion of popular talents Jean-Paul Belondo ("Two Women", "Breathless", "A Woman is a Woman", "Le Doulos") and Emmanuelle Riva ("Hiroshima Mon Amour", "Kapo") but also to earn Melville a different type of recognition for his film that he had never had before.

The film would receive rave reviews from the right because of its Catholic/religious theme (note: Melville was an atheist) and receive rave reviews from religious to non-religious film critics. But it also helped that Beck's original novel was highly popular and you had a popular filmmaker such as Melville and his name attached to it.

VIDEO:

"Léon Morin, Priest" is presented in black and white 1080p High Definition (1:66:1 aspect ratio). Previously, the film was only available via DVD through the BFI (British Film Institute). The biggest difference in HD is that there is more detail and clarity. Especially outdoors where Barny is walking around town. You can make out buildings in the distance much more clearly, especially the cobblestone road and overall environment much more.

The contrast of the film is actually quite magnificent with blacks levels which are nice and deep. White and grays that look very good but most of all, none of the blurry type of imaging that was seen on the BFI DVD. You can see the faces in the distance. You can see the strands of hair of the female employees at Barny's job, the picture quality definitely looks very good in HD and there is no doubt that this is the best looking version of "Léon Morin, Priest" by far!

Cinematography by Henri Decae ("The 400 Blows", "Elevator to the Gallows", "Le Samourai") is fantastic and because of the bigger budget, it allowed for more creativity from Melville and Decae for the various shots included in the film, especially the crane shot as we see Barny going up the stairs to visit the priest.

According to the Criterion Collection, this high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit 4K Datacine from a 35 mm fine-grain master positive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS system and Pixel Farm's PFClean system, while Digital Vision's DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

"Léon Morin, Priest" is presented in lossless LPCM monaural. The dialogue is very clear coming through the center channel. I personally chose to watch the film with stereo on all channels set on my receiver for a more immersive soundscape but testing the monaural lossless soundtrack, dialogue is quite clear, especially the music by Martial Solal.

According to the Criterion Collection, "Léon Morin, Priest" was remastered at 24-bit from 35 mm optical track print. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integrated workstation.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

"Léon Morin, Priest - The Criterion Collection #572' on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:

Jean-Pierre Melville and Jean-Paul Belmondo - (4:45) A French television interview excerpt from JHT 19HI5, Sept. 1961 with director Jean-Pierre Melville and actor Jean-Paul Belmondo. Belmondo talks about being cast as the priest and Belmondo talks about the film.
Selected-scene commentary by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau - Ginette Vinecendeau talks about Melville's larger budget, how the film was quite risky at the time, how the Catholics loved the film and how the film did well during debut.
Deleted Scenes - Melville's original film was over 3 hours long but he ended up trimming quite a bit from the film. Of those deleted scenes, two are featured on this Blu-ray release.
Original theatrical trailer - (3:10) The original theatrical trailer for ""Léon Morin, Priest".

EXTRAS:

"Léon Morin, Priest - The Criterion Collection #572' comes with a 30-page booklet which includes the following essays "Life During Wartime" by Gary Indiana and "Melville on Leon Morin, Priest" (from Rui Nogueira's "Melville on Melville").

JUDGMENT CALL:

Poetic, risky and intelligent. "Léon Morin, Priest" is a film that Melville had wanted to create for nearly a decade. A film that would separate him from his other fellow filmmakers who were known as "auteur maudit".

And although not a noir film which many tend to associate with Jean-Pierre Melville, the film's efficacy is due to how Melville was able to bring his French New Wave style to a bigger budget picture but also bring in two popular talents, the priest Jean-Paul Belmondo and the main actress Emanuelle Rivera.

Belmondo who was the hot actor at the time, especially for the films "Breathless", "Two Women" and "A Woman is a Woman", was skeptical himself about playing the role of a priest. But through the direction of Melville, Belmondo transforms himself to the man of faith and showing that the actor can play more than bad boy roles.

With Rivera, playing the main role of Barny is quite intriguing because she looks so wholesome.

But once you start to hear the thoughts in her mind, her attraction to her boss Sabine and then her attraction to the priest, you can sense the sexual frustration through her performance.

In one scene, Léon Morin, who knows that Barny is trying to flirt with him, tells her to find a husband. Her response is why need a husband when she can do it with a stick. He responds to her by concern of how dangerous it is but she responds that she is not "fragile".

One thing that Melville made sure not to do is focus too much on the religion. We know through the conversations of Barny with the priest, that she has problems not only with the Catholicism but that there is a sense of pessimism within her. She wants to provoke the priest, to see him anger but he does not.

She goes to see him a good number of times but each time she goes to provoke him, he is prepared to answer her questions about religion, to show that even though he is a priest, he is not perfect. And its the fact that he is no honest to her but to everyone else and even if one wants to provoke him, he does not push them away. He is interested in talking with them, discussing whatever issue they may have and showing them that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

While some may feel the film is pro-Catholicism and its goal is to push people towards the religion, Melville is the first to say that this is not a religious film. And while the film is very much loved by Catholics at the time, the film is primarily about forbidden love and a good illustration of how faith can change a person's life.

Because of Melville's involvement, the film is presented ala Mis-en-scene. Shots are done in location and at a studio setting but the efficacy "Léon Morin, Priest" is its cinematography and editing combined with a storyline that is intellectual which lends to a poetic feel through its imagery.

As for the Blu-ray release, "Léon Morin, Priest" does not have a plethora of special features that Criterion Collection is known for but you do get a classic interview with Melville and Belmondo about the film. And for those who have a hard time of picturing Belmondo as a priest, Melville does answer the question of why he was cast. We also get a pretty good selected scene commentary by Ginette Vincendeau who does have a good amount of things to say about Melville and two deleted scenes and the original theatrical trailer plus the booklet.

While its easy to recommend this to Melville viewers and those who enjoy films that are intellectual and enjoyable, those who are stuck with the thought of enjoying noir-ish Melville may find "Léon Morin, Priest" and its focus on conversations of faith and its theme of forbidden love to not be their cup of tea as it lacks any gunshots or any gangster-type characters. In other words, a very different Melville type of film and while it may appease theologists, cineaste who appreciate intellectual cinema, "Léon Morin, Priest" is not for everyone.

Personally, I love the fact that Melville wanted to distinguish himself from his fellow filmmakers and do something different. It's unfortunate that we may not see the full three hour and 13 minute cut of "Léon Morin, Priest"
that Melville had originally shot, because watching the two deleted scenes, we get to see more of the thought process of Barny, especially in regards of what was happening in her village during German occupation. Still, I'm grateful for the Criterion Collection for releasing a Melville film on Blu-ray and DVD.

Overall, "Léon Morin, Priest" will no doubt attract those who love films with intelligent conversation such as Eric Rohmer's "My Night at Maud's", not necessarily pedantic but clever and enjoyable.

The performances by Jean-Paul Belmondo and Emmanuelle Riva are wonderful and the direction and cinematography were tastefully done, poetic and pleasing to watch.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2011
Format: Blu-ray
Belmando is at his best in this beautiful movie as a young priest who faces women with all kinds of troubles in his parish. This is classic Melville with Henri Decae's excellent camera work. A rare gem of it's own kind.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2011
Format: Blu-ray
The Second World War profoundly affected so many millions of lives in so many places around the globe, that it has provided an inexhaustible supply of stories over the years. Jean-Pierre Melville's LEON MORIN, PRIEST, based on an autobiographical novel by Beatrix Beck, presents one woman's account of life in occupied France and her relationship with a local priest in her village. Under Melville's astute direction, the film shows us a unique facet in the endless World War II mosaic.

Widely regarded as the father of the French New Wave in the 1960's, Jean-Pierre Melville (LE SAMOURAI, ARMY OF SHADOWS) was a master producer and director whose influence on his filmmaking progeny - Truffaut, Godard, Resnais, Rohmer, etc. - was profound. Born Jean-Pierre Grumbach to a Jewish family, he became obsessed with film at an early age. His own moviemaking explorations were interrupted, however, by induction into the French army in the late 1930's. With the Nazi invasion of France in 1940, he changed his name to Melville and joined the underground French resistance, eventually taking part in the Allied liberation of Europe.

Heavily influenced by American culture and movies, Melville started his own production company after the war. The films he turned out in the fifties (BOB LE FLAMBEUR) provided a clear stylistic break from the work of classic French directors like Jean Renoir and Rene Clair. After a few box office flops, though, Melville decided to tackle more commercial fare. Working with producer Carlo Ponti, he took on the relatively big-budget adaptation of Beck's bestselling book.

Set in an occupied village mostly during the war years, LEON MORIN, PRIEST centers on the relationship between single mother, Barny (Emmanuelle Riva) and Leon Morin (Jean-Paul Belmondo). Barny initially ventures into the confessional of the local Catholic church intent on mocking a cleric and his tenets. But she doesn't count on her chosen priest being the challenging and charismatic Morin. By casting magnetic New Wave actors Riva (HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR) and Belmondo (BREATHLESS), Melville smartly gives his film a will they/won't they frisson which sparks the religious and spiritual dialogues the characters engage in. Barny isn't the only single woman in the village to find the ascetic priest alluring, and the supporting cast, playing characters with varying allegiances, is as consistently compelling as the two leads.

Though Melville clearly knows the world he depicts, he chooses to keep the elements of the Nazi occupation largely in the background. The invading German forces are always felt, and the ramifications of their presence are inescapable, but the director chooses to focus more on the unrequited love story, making it the center of the film. These are complex, fascinating characters, and Melville brings out the multi-dimensions of their lives and dilemmas. For anyone with an interest in cinema, LEON MORIN, PRIEST is essential viewing.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2013
Format: Blu-ray
Léon Morin, Priest is the excellent character study between a young widow and a priest during the Nazi occupation of France. She, an atheist, is practically forced into the church to convert to Catholicism and avoid persecution from the Nazis.

While she does follow through the nominal process of conversion, she is a reluctant party, with many serious doubts and critiques of the Church and of religion in general. The priest, surprisingly, both shares and understands many of her questions, with himself combating his own fears and concerns about religion. We get many superb scenes of intelligent, yet realistic, dialogue between two strong-willed and sharp-witted parties.

The performances are excellent as well, with Emanuelle Riva as the heroine and a handsome Jean-Paul Belmondo as the young priest. They play their characters with the fullest, bringing them to life both with charisma and insecurity. The subtleties of their performances are so impressive, it's easy to forget we are watching a movie.

Director Melville is heavy on "showing, not telling," (which he exemplifies in his minimalist Army of Shadows and Le Cercle Rouge, neither of which I particularly enjoyed), but it works here - we do see their friendship develop over the course of two hours. When they must part at the film's end, we do feel their sadness and the loss of their relationship. Léon Morin, Priest is a solid, entertaining and stimulating film that maintains our attention and breaks our heart.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2013
Format: Blu-rayVerified Purchase
Set in Nazi occupied France Melville's film deals with the relationship between Morin (Belmondo) and a lonely atheist Barny (Riva). Morin wants to convert Barny but her primary interest is getting laid. They spend time together debating faith and it seems she is converted but is it sincere? Melville doesn't seem to think so. I'm not so sure. The sexual tension and theolgical debates make this film fascinating and one of the most faith affirming films I've ever seen and from a confirmed atheist (Melville) nonetheless!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 24, 2011
Format: Blu-ray
John-Pierre Melville's 1961 exploration of the friction between faith and desire stars John-Paul Belmondo in a cassock. There's something very cool -- certainly intentional -- about Belmondo's look that only further fuels the sexual tension he evokes among the women encounters on his life's path. But there are many factors at work here beyond the repressed sexuality inherent in a vow of celibacy. Looming over everything are the shifting values of a post war France recovering from the war. There's an aura of ambiguity and uncertainty in the world of this story, themes to which Melville would return and to which he was personally attracted.

Belmondo's priest is the spiritual guardian of a small French village during the Nazi occupation. He believes that anyone can be saved. So when he encounters Barny (Emmanuella Riva), a sexually frustrated widow and communist militant who barges into his church and tears his religion apart, he reacts with compassion. Thus an unexpected relationship is begun that is the core of the film's dramatic tensions and pleasures.

A Jewish atheist, director Melville surprises us with a movie seemingly filled with religion. But a closer look reveals only the frightening distortions created between lonely people caught in prisons of their newly discovered existential freedom. Or, in other words, the paradoxical dilemma of the traps imposed by our free-will choices.

Melville once glibly said the main idea of the film was none of the kind, but only to "show this amorous priest who likes to excite girls but doesn't sleep with them." But I think Melville knew better. One thing's for sure: It's impossible to imagine this film with a star other than Belmondo. His rumpled charisma and physicality, even in a liturgical frock, are astonishing. That face!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2011
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
This will apparently be the first review of this Russian-inspired Atrium DVD of one of the three greatest religious movies I have seen, the other two being MONSIEUR VINCENT, and THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW. An Editorial Review, two consumer reviews of the Criterion version, both useless, and an endless vituperative series of COMMENTS, mostly by correspondents who have NOT seen the film, are all the prospective buyer has to go on. One reviewer waxes enthusiastic (5-stars) without exactly saying why; the other savages Melville's mid-period masterpiece because he got bored, gave up, and thought that Jean-Paul Belmondo was too much of a hoodlum to play the role of a priest. Well, let me tell him and you that his casting in this part is inspirational (as of all the other parts), and his performance is one of the most rivettingly charismatic in the entire annals of the cinema. By the same misguided reasoning, he should never have played STAVITSKY, or the sight-impaired student in TWO WOMEN either, in both of which he was superb. The movie, set in a small town in wartime France, pits the young priest working out of a run-down parish against a range of randy females who seek his services for purposes other than pure religion. With the patience and self-control of a saint, the wit of a Moliere, and a profound personal philosophy based on true (asexual) love for his fellow-man-and woman as expounded with brilliant insightful dialogue drawn from scriptures and religious writings, Belmondo and his director lead us on an odyssey that could serve as a modern rendering of The Last Temptation of Christ. The main female role is taken by Emmanuelle Riva, as sadly incandescent as in HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR, the one female parishioner to whom he comes closest and the one most likely to divert him from his true purpose. There are some interesting, amusing, and heart-rending side-plots involving the various ladies who work at the same boring office in the town, that reveal something of the tensions and dangers of life in France under Nazi occupation. The battle between the two principle protagonists -- abstinence versus temptation and belief versus atheism -- takes place through words, thoughts and ideas. It is what you expect from a film based upon a Prix Goncourt-winning novel, THE PASSIONATE HEART. Anyone lacking the intellectual apparatus for this artistic approach will very likely get bored, quit, and write a damning review. For the rest, it is potentially one of the most provocative, moving and spiritual experiences that they will ever see on celluloid, and the ending when it comes is like the aftermath of an explosion. I am glad to report that this version, much less expensive than the Criterion product when I bought it, has English subtitles and looks quite beautiful in its cool black-and-white tones. As someone who knows Melville's work quite thoroughly, I did not mind the absence of extras. You "pays" your money and you "takes" your choice. We all should live within our means!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 25, 2011
Format: DVD
Jean-Pierre Melville as a cinematic story-teller has lived up to his inspirational literary hero, Herman Melville, and created such films like Le Samourai/Bob Le Flambeur/Les Enfants Terribles-- so unforgettable that they become part of my cultural makeup, and now this--Leon Morin, Priest--the antithesis of all three films mentioned. I dare say that this movie is a memo on faith, hope and love-- noble virtues difficult to attain. Belmondo gives a tour de force performance as the wise, kindly priest trying to make a dent on the lives of his parishioners to the point that he transforms to be an object of desire for some women, a temptation
irresistible to a number of men in the priesthood. Then just what I find most fascinating in this film is the clever clash of spiritual questions and answers, sort of Ping-Pong of philosophical postulations. Leon Morin could be my fictional hero-priest but I wonder if there's one like him today--is there?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 3, 2011
Format: Blu-ray
I'm not religious, but I found this movie very fascinating. I came away believing the writer, director and Belmondo must be brilliant. My enjoyment of this movie rests partly on Belmondo's charm and partly on the intelligence of the script- the overt things as well as the underlying things being presented. It has at least two levels. I loved them both.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2014
Format: Blu-ray
This is especially refreshing at a time when the American film industry is pandering to the religious market with a lot of mawkish, simplistic and eye-rollingly literal movies. Here is a restrained yet engaging film (with some terrific performances) that tackles some tough questions and doesn't pretend to have all the answers. The occupation setting is interesting as well, and Criterion offers a couple of deleted scenes that flesh this angle out a bit. The characters' motivations are occasionally opaque, but this allows for some interesting interpretations (the priest's casual readiness to either provoke or rebuke his female parishioners strongly suggests that he knows exactly what effect he's having on them, and the heroine's not-entirely explained conversion hints that a desire for faith may have been at the bottom of her perverse urge to provoke a priest in the first place), so I'm disinclined to put this down to sloppiness in an otherwise extremely thoughtful script. Intellectual, but not in the least bit condescending, Criterion's blu-ray offers a very fine presentation of a finely made film that occasionally shows its age. Well worth seeing, even for non-believers, and easily one of the best films on the nature of faith that I've ever seen. Remarkable. It's out of print, so those interested (Melville fans take note) should grab it while they still can.
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