Léon Morin, Priest (5/19/12)

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Léon Morin, Priest is the tale of a handsome, young priest living in Nazi-occupied France and his interactions with a non-practicing widow.

A young widow named Barny (Emmanuelle Riva) who lives with her half-Jewish daughter during Nazi occupation in France one day finds herself in a church. She convinces herself she is there to mock the Christian faith during confession and randomly chooses Léon Morin (Jean-Paul Belmondo) as the priest. After seeing that Morin is not shaken by her confrontation and is, in fact, replying as if in an intelligent discussion, she slowly becomes taken with religion as the priest tries to mold her.

Through Léon Morin, Priest there is the constant question of whether Barny is truly practicing religion or if she is merely interested in Morin. At times, both seem plausible. Morin’s own intentions are not always entirely clear, despite remaining devout. The interactions between the characters are shown usually in brief scenes that build upon the story. While I found the characters in Léon Morin, Priest interesting, I was struggling to really care about them. Or perhaps I was having difficulty really understanding the conflict at hand. I never related to Barny or Morin on a personal level and since I’m not religious perhaps that caused the disconnect.

The writer/director, Jean-Pierre Melville, was quickly becoming one of my all-time favorites and this was the first time I’ve seen a film of his that was less than amazing. I enjoyed my time with Léon Morin, Priest, but was ultimately disappointed. While there was nothing technically wrong or missing from the film, ultimately I found myself not really caring about what happened to the characters. Perhaps that is no fault of the film’s but only the fault of the viewer.

I give it 3 confessions out of 5.

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Le Samourai (2/18/12)

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I already declared my love for director Jean-Pierre Melville’s work when I reviewed Le Silence De La Mer. Le Samourai is a completely different movie but is equally amazing film.

Le Samourai is part crime drama but it is about so much more than that. We are introduced to an assassin (Alain Delon) that goes in to a crowded night club to kill his target. He is seen by several people. The police try to apprehend the killer and our assassin is a suspect. There is certainly lots of tension during these scenes in the police station, but the tension does not stop there. With an alibi, the police are forced to let the assassin go, but are not convinced.

Without giving away too much of the plot, I can say the above synopsis is only a portion of the film. The characters are all incredibly believable and realistic and Delon plays his role perfectly, much like Ryan Gosling in Drive.

Despite taking place in the late 60s, the film doesn’t feel dated. Had the movie taken place today, even with all the CSI technology we have, I do not feel like much would change with the overall plot. That is as strong testament to a gripping story if there ever was one.

In my quest to discover all of Melville’s films, Le Samourai is another fantastic experience. It is captivating, has terrific characters, a tense plot,  and is a timeless noir film.

I give it 5 pet canaries out of 5.

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