There was a time when any film from 1951 would have been old-school enough for me. But that was before I started watching the 1001 movies list. Now, I can differentiate between a film that seems old from a film that seems old for its time.
Today’s entry is about a French film that feels old for its time, which is a weird feeling since the last French entry in this lest felt extremely avant-garde.
But Journal d’un curé de campagne (Diary of a Country Priest) feels like something from the early 1930s, despite being a 1951 film.
The main culprit is the cinematography, which, at times, is soft-focus, I think probably intentionally, because old-style filming is perfect for a film about the inner life of a priest. No matter where in history one is standing, at least in the past 150 years, the Catholic Church always seems to be regarded as remnant of an earlier age. This is clearly how the 1950s saw it and this film treats the problems of faith and belief as something venerable, to be treated as an antiquity.
But that’s not all. The quick scenes telling the story in choppy little pieces also brings out an earlier age (and works really well), the lack of color (this film would have been a disaster in color) also add to the sense.
Most of all, however, the stark nature of the background and sets, a truly rural setting which, had it not contained 1930s cars (adding to the sense), would have felt like the action took place in the 1910s due to the prominent role or railroads and bicycles.
This is a truly interesting film, one of those that sticks with you, and I recommend it to anyone interested in the history of cinema. It made Robert Bresson’s reputation, and deservedly so. It certainly was very different from anything else on screen in its day (and before or since, too). Recommended.
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose books span the genres from pretentious literary mainstream to monster horror. A good chunk of his incisive literary fiction which gets right to the core of modern life is collected in a series of linked short stories entitled Love and Death. Those who enjoy realistic looks at reality without falling into navel-gazing or losing the sense of humor one needs to face life will enjoy this book. You can check it out here.