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aka - Journal D'un Curé De Campagne
France 1954
Directed by
Robert Bresson
120 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Diary Of A Country Priest

There are quite a few older cinéastes who would count this film which is widely regarded as the director’s first masterpiece, as one of their all-time favourites.  Whilst acknowledging the spare intensity of Bresson's style, significantly enhanced here by the splendid black and white cinematography of  Léonce-Henri Burel who had been Abel Gance's cinematographer and who would henceforth be Bresson'sregular collaborator, I am not inclined to join their ranks. Being of a more Buñuelian stripe ideologically, I find Bresson's penitential Christian religious preoccupations (here or elsewhere) more alienating than moving precisely because they are so stripped of psychological and emotional motivation whilst the director’s conscious exclusion of dramaturgical dynamics (the film being the first in which he used non-actor “models” to represent his characters rather than professional actors) for me robs us one of the great pleasures of film -  its performative aspect (it is little surprise that Bresson trained as a painter before turning to film).

The story, which is based on a novel of the same name by Georges Bernanos, is that of a sickly young priest (Claude Laydu) who arrives in a poor rural parish which has little or no time for his spiritual mission and the angst which he experiences as he questions his relevance and his faith. Bresson advances the narrative episodically, systematically fading to black between each brace of episodes and has the priest reading from his own diary in order to give us access to his thoughts. The film thus becomes a beautiful illustration of the lugubrious young man’s spiritual odyssey with the final scene of the cross on the white wall a masterstroke of cinematic austerity.




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