Thursday, March 28, 2013

Leon Morin, Priest. A-

Jean-Pierre Melville is generally labeled as a master of French crime thrillers, yet to narrow his career down to this single genre is to deny some of his very best films. Obviously Army of Shadows would be the first movie to come to mind, but one that not a lot of people talk about is the genius Leon Morin, Priest. Arguably the best film that tackles the complications of being a young, handsome priest next to I Confess, the movie is at once darkly funny, ecclesiastically provocative, and politically alert. Essentially we get the scenario of a religious skeptic, played by a young, wonderful Emanuelle Riva, who desperately desires a romantic relationship with someone and finds herself falling under the spell of a boyish, yet intelligent and well-read priest. The question is whether her religious transformation once she begins to see the priest to discuss theology is genuine or if it's just a ploy to get him to fall for her. The other question is how Leon is playing the situation. He clearly seems preoccupied in Riva's conversion, and yet the fact that he has a number of other young woman who seek spiritual advice, plus some subtly flirtatious motions he makes sporadically forces one to wonder if he's having a little bit of sinful fun as well. It's all fairly tendentious, and yet the movie has never been called problematic by Christian organizations because, I think, ultimately there's no direct evidence to accuse it of being scandalous. Leon in the end emerges as a virtuous figure from a Christian standpoint. But the brilliance of the movie is that Leon, as complex as he is, isn't even Melville's main concern. Riva is the center of the film, and really we're seeing in a unique, funny, and sophisticated way how people need somebody. 

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