Directed by Robert Bresson and released theatrically in it’s home country of France in 1951.
Robert Bresson’s Diary Of A Country Priest is a film that plays with religion in a way I’ve only ever seen matched by Bergman’s Winter Light. The two films share distinct similarities but Bresson manages to convey his themes much clearer. The performance from Claude Laydu is a feat in itself, wonderfully portraying a priest fighting morality and illness side by side while at the same time having his congregation look down on him for his conflicting personal beliefs.
While Bergman’s film deals with a hefty amount of inter-personal human relationships (of course second to it’s religious themes), Bresson’s film deals primarily with man’s relationship with God and one’s self. Our Priest is confronted by various characters about his beliefs but the only person to whom he can truly confess those beliefs to is himself. At times he cannot even bring himself to confess to God his beliefs, but as any religious man or woman will tell you… God hears all.
Throughout the film our Priest’s illness worsens and so do his relationships with the people of his congregation, at the forefront of that congregation is the wealthy family of the Count and Countess. A pivotal scene in the film is the Priest’s conversation with the Countess days before she passes away. They speak on life, death aswell as countless other subjects… all of which are themes looked at throughout the entirety of the film.
Robert Bresson is a director whose work is held in high regard by almost all cinema fans, but it’s really his fellow filmmakers who hold his work in the highest regard. The diet of one Travis Bickle, the main character from Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, is said to take direct influence from this film, and the final shot is a direct reference to Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Day Of Wrath – the shadow of a cross on a white wall.
Upon researching this film I discovered that the young lady who portrays Chantal, the Countess’ daughter, Nicole Ladmiral, jumped to her death beneath a subway train at the age of 28 – seven years after this film. After only appearing in three films, this one being her second to last, it is a wonder if her experience with the themes put forth in this film contributed to the ultimate decision she made.
Whether you’re an Atheist, an Agnostic or a devout Christian, I found Bresson’s Diary Of A Country Priest to be an utterly profound experience that will undoubtedly have you questioning your beliefs long after the film has finished rolling.