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on July 16, 2015
Three stars is a compromise between 5 stars for the movie and 1 star for the DVD. The movie is great; the DVD leaves a great deal to be desired. It was made in Asia, as the Chinese (?) characters on the cover indicate. That in itself does not matter, but it might explain why the people who put it together apparently did not realize they had recorded a commentary on the movie rather than the sound track of the movie itself. Fortunately, I had seen the movie before so was familiar with it. I showed this DVD to my sister and brother-in-law recently at their house. We tried all sorts of stratagems to find the move sound track, without luck. At home I tried myself and concluded that the sound track was simply not included - the movie could be viewed as a silent with English subtitles (as we were forced to), or simply as a commentary on movie while seeing the movie's images unfold. In spite of this, this film is so powerful that its essential message came through without the sound track. It's not easy viewing. You may struggle to get through it. It is the diametric opposite of an action movie and is not a happy or lighthearted tale. But once seen, it will never be forgotten.
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on April 10, 2016
Bresson’s ultra spare, ultra depressing study of a young sickly priest trying to find his place in a small town. The town seems to have no interest or liking for the priest and his shy piety or religion in general.

This film could be only half-jokingly referred to as Ingmar Bergman without the laughs. Super slow moving, using images to create a mood, with very little to identify with, this was rough going on first viewing, especially for a non-catholic like me. Yet there are striking images here, and haunting moments that ring in my head. And I have a feeling, prepared now for the film’s slow pace and distanced style, I might get more out of it on a second viewing. A lot of professional critics see it as a masterpiece, but others see it as good, but not up to Bresson's later, greater works, finding it too spare for its own good. That's where I can out on a first try, but how often are we first put off by a great film, only to grasp it's greatness on return?
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on September 18, 2017
What I like most about Diary of a Country Priest is it's raw, intimate, existential vein. The priest is always fully aware of himself and his mortality virtually throughout the film. He speaks to us directly via his diary and in voice overs. The entire film seems to offer us the sum and substance of life without any of the distractions, without any frippery. In a way it is the opposite of entertainment. It makes us look at the essence of existence and the story pulls no punches. Death is just around the corner in a largely friendless world. Most people are often mean and narrow-minded. Spiritual and physical pain comes in waves. The admirable protagonist soldiers on caring not about his poverty, his pullover full of holes, his drab abode. He is scoffed at, derided, unjustly criticised and humiliated by his ecclesiastical superiors and by his parishioners. He takes the lashings calmly sometimes even turning the other cheek but when necessary he firmly stands his ground.

True communication is also arduous and usually unsuccessful. People are locked in their egos, their personal view of things. However, the young priest does manage to persuade the ageing, embittered countess to put aside her spitefulness, reconcile herself to the premature death of her son and open up to reality and to those closest to her, like her neglected, scheming daughter, Chantal. Unfortunately, shortly afterwards, she has a heart attack and dies. The priest is blamed for having unduly agitated her and thus being the cause her death.

The film’s constant seriousness is also very welcome though there are some poignant moments of intentional or unintentional black humour. For example, when the rough hunter doctor examines the priest and tells him that they resemble each other. When the puzzled priest asks him to explain the doctor replies: We are “the race that holds on, that faces up to it”. A few days later he is found dead in the woods. The probable cause of death, suicide by means of a shotgun blast to the head. Not very comforting for the young curate if they really do resemble each other.

The glimpses we are provided of the lives of others through the accounts that people give to the priest are equally devoid of much joy or anything approaching satisfaction or success. The harsh barrenness rings true and is emphasised in the streets full of mud, grimy doors, leafless and crooked trees, restlessly barking dogs, creaking gates. And yet at the very end after all he has gone through, after all he and we have seen, as he lays dying, he is amazingly able to say the remarkable and memorable phrase: “All is grace”. My own interpretation, is that this is an outstandingly generous expression of gratitude. An appreciation of the blessing of life, a thankfulness for the privilege of having lived, for the honour of having participated in the cosmic flow of life with all its harshness, however briefly.
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VINE VOICEon March 12, 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 August 13, 2014
A deeply spiritual film that surpasses all other films about Catholic priests or nuns, with the exception of "The Nun's Story," and "Viridiana." Moving, compelling, a conversion experience..and Bresson's landscapes, hues of black, gray, light gray, and white, the quick editing, the wonderful acting by Ayud as the priest and all of the rest of this amazing cast, make this a momentous film. Do not miss it.
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on September 7, 2010
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 martyrdom.

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 September 7, 2009
Diary of a County Priest is not a tale of a failed priest but rather a tale of a dying young priest who felt like a failure. By the end of the movie (and the novel) it becomes apparent that he had a gift for touching people at a very deep level and in doing so leading them away from their self destructive habits and towards religious denouement. His visit to a wealthy married woman locked in self-pity and anger against God for decades due to the death of her young son causes her to let go of all that bitterness and reconcile with God. There were encounters equally revealing. His humbleness enabled him to hold a mirror up to others; some hated what they saw in the mirror and others felt shame. He wasn't derided by the town folk because he was ineffective but because he was effective, only he didn't know it. Very early in the novel he comments to himself "Grace is free but nobody seems to want it." He was aware that people were too caught up in their own selfish habits and bitterness and because of that they denied themselves the Grace which God makes available to those who call to Him. This young priest of Ambricourt saw that Grace was all around and everywhere and that the real problem with so many people was that they refused to acknowledge that fact. His simple beliefs were brought to light with his dying words spoken to a deracinated Catholic friend of his, "Grace is everywhere". Diary of a Country Priest is worthwhile viewing for anybody interested in delving deeply into the intense Catholicity of pre-Vatican II Christendom.
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on September 3, 2008
Bresson's adaptation of Bernanos' novel is one of the most perfect movies ever made. Both Bresson and Bernanos are masters at understatement, and so a story that so easily could've become bloated with easy piety instead becomes a portrait of holiness.

The young cure of Ambricourt (Claude Laydu) finds himself in a parish where everyone mocks or despises him. The local comte dislikes him because the cure knows he's having an affair with his daughter's tutor. The school children mock him because he's youthful and inexperienced. His fellow priests waffle between pity and scorn for what they see as his weakness. And it doesn't help that the cure is plagued by ill health--he eventually dies of stomach cancer--and spiritual dryness.

Yet even in all his suffering and private and public humiliations, and despite his own self-doubts, he exudes a purity born of love that gives him a strength he isn't quite aware he possesses. A perceptive canon tells him at one point that "Your simplicity is like a flame that burns," and this is why, the canon concludes, the cure's parishioners so dislike him. Sanctity is an affront to people whose lives are fractured by bad choices, carelessness, and a refusal to love.

The Cure of Ambricourt's spiritual journey reminds one of Teresa, the "Little Flower," who famously defended the spiritual path of simplicity and smallness. Sainthood isn't necessarily dramatic or flashy. It can also be characterized, as the film's Priest of Torcy says, in "doing little things, day by day, while [one] waits" for God.

Cinematography, directing, and acting are superb. Laydu's performance is as unforced and simple as it had to be to do justice to his character. The robust but not unspiritual priest of Torcy, played by a psychiatrist(Adrien Borel) who had no previous acting experience, is touching. Nicole Ladmiral's portrayal of the troubled adolescent Chantal is heartbreaking. Tragically, Ladmiral's promising career was cut short when she (apparently deliberately) threw herself under a Paris subway car in 1958.

Ten stars.
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on March 28, 2010
Well worth a look, this well made movie is completely from the tormented viewpoint of the country priest via his journal. I think it tells an important story, one worth serious contemplation. But different people will get different things out if it. Some may see it as inspiring, others as a cautionary tale. I love the fact that it can be interpreted either way. And perhaps in other ways as well, a real thought provoker.

By coincidence, I happened to view this not long after watching the movie of Kurt Hamsun's "Hunger." A movie also from the viewpoint of a lonely and troubled individual. The similarities are interesting, as are the differences. Both are clueless about reality, dumbfounded by its lack of fit with their idealisms about it. Other people are mostly sources of confusion to them. The priest is motivated by service, and the writer (in Hunger) by mere survival. Both are completely incompetent at it, unable to connect with the rest of humanity in any meaningful way (though the priest does seem to make a little connection with another priest, that's about the extent of it). Whether their psychological states could be said to be anything but disfunctional, is undoubtedly a matter of interesting debate from either side.

My first impression is that the priest's torment, like the writer's in "Hunger," was largely self-imposed, or at least, derived from his inability to recognize his own ignorance and do something useful about it. Certainly, the townspeople were far less than model citizens, but this should not be all that surprising given the lack of solid priestly capabilities. It seems to me that the young priest was not cut out for his job, wallowing in his sorrows which did himself no good and his parishoners a disservice. His stomach problems seem a metaphor for the effects in the real world of his inability to understand much of anything. He could not stomach the world, and the world had little stomach for him. He does not offer what I would call a positive spiritual contribution, is a pain-in-the-gut for everyone else in one way or another, not just himself. While he appears to have some empathy with others, I would say that it is merely imagined, as it seems only to arise in ways that are nonconstructive or inappropriate. He seems to think he did well in his conversation with the countess, but it's not at all clear that the effect was actually a positive one. It takes more than mere suffering to be a saint, one must also grow a backbone. One must be able to effectively communicate. Otherwise, say hello to self-indulgent masochism, blind fanaticism, or perhaps, just really lousy luck. Like "Hunger," "Diary of a Country Priest," is akin to a train-wreck in slow motion.

I say my "first impression," here, because I suspect I will have other thoughts about it upon additional reflection and additional viewings. I think there is a lot here to contemplate.
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on January 8, 2006
Possibly the diary itself should have been excluded in this transition of the Georges Bernanos novel to film. The book allowed the diary passages, which by book's end swelled in emotional intensity, to serve as evidence to the sainthood of the young country priest who believes himself a failure at uplifting the spirit of his depressed parish. Here, the diary passages, although sometimes humanely profound, contol the film systematically as a tool to forward the plot, and never successfully reveal the character.

If you've never been moved by French author, Bernanos' powerful book, it's cinema counterpart may seem only dull and religious. If you have taken the book to heart however, there is a lot to admire here. The cold rural atmosphere can be felt like a chill to the bone in the bold, stark, black and white cinematography. The character actors surrounding the priest are a solid wall of antagonizing support. The young priest's joyous motorcycle ride is captured exactly as the book intended, as an unexpected escape from his mundane and painful life.

Claude Layduin, in the title role, is often moving as the sole god-fearing man in a village of depraved religious intention, but his wise, godlike stares away from the camera, as if into the mist, upset the ignorance and humility of the character, who never for a moment believes himself to be worthy of God, the essence of the novel.

This classic French film seems to be a victim of mixed reviews since it's 1950 premier. It would seem admirers of the book will also admire the film. Those unaware of the novel, may find it's greatest aspects here as well.
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