Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Leon Morin, pretre

Jean-Pierre Melville’s Leon Morin, pretre (1961), which is currently being revived at Film Forum, takes place during the Nazi occupation of France. But the narrative really takes the form of a series of revelations that mirror the spiritual conversation between a priest, Morin (Jean-Paul Belmondo), and Barny (Emmanuele Riva), the widow of a Communist. For a director who’s known for his long takes the scenes in Leon Morin are all relatively short separated by old fashioned wipes which create a visionary sense of the world. The screen is constantly populated by new evidence of both an existential and transcendental nature (the night time  rumblings of invading armies and the buttons on a frock). The antipodes of collaboration and resistance presented more histrionically in movies like Roma, citta aperta (1945) are more subtly rendered by Melville, as is the slow conversion of Barny, who's an atheist at the start of the film. Essentially Leon Morin is an extended conversation. It’s My Dinner with Andre (1981) set during the Second World War with theological and teleological themes taking the place of the philosophical discussion that characterized the Louis Malle classic. The claustrophobic spirituality of Leon Morin also recalls Robert Bresson's Journal d'un cure de campagne (1951). You may remember Emmanuelle Riva from Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959) and there’s a curious similarity between  Leon Morin and the Resnais classic, in the way in which the chemistry of love becomes a pretext for examining the strivings of the human soul.

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