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Léon Morin, Priest (Léon Morin, prêtre)

Opens on July 7

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville Run Time: 117 min. Format: DCP Release Year: 1961 Language: French with English subtitles

Starring: Emmanuelle Riva, Irène Tunc, Jean-Paul Belmondo

Based on a novel by Béatrix Beck that Melville described as “the most accurate picture I have read of the life of French people under the occupation,” Léon Morin, Priest focuses on Barny (Emmanuelle Riva), a widowed mother living in provincial France who, with the arrival of German forces, is suddenly confronted by the twin rigors of the resistance and the holy gospel. A self-confessed atheist and communist, she attends confession on a lark one afternoon and meets Jean-Paul Belmondo’s titular figure, whose forbidding wardrobe and intimidating intelligence cannot contain his elemental sex appeal. While debates rage in Barny’s workplace over the ethics of resistance, another dialectical battleground flourishes in Morin’s homely living quarters, where Barny starts attending regular sessions of intense theological discussion. Melville finds innumerable compositional and choreographic tricks to physically distance his characters while they repress their growing attraction—that is, until the chemistry between Riva and Belmondo becomes so powerful that closeness can’t be avoided. It all amounts to a devastating study of the internal and external pressures that collaborate to impose solitude.

Text by Carson Lund.


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