Diary of a Country Priest

Released:  1951

Cast:  Claude Laydu, Jean Riveyre, Andre Guibert

SUMMARY:  In a small rural town in France, a new priest (Claude Laydu) arrives and takes over.  This priest is very young, and his age, among other things, quickly convince the townspeople that he is inept.  The priest suffers from an unknown stomach ailment; the only things he can keep down are bread and wine.  However, he does not make this ailment public, so many of the parishioners and townspeople come to believe that he’s an alcoholic.  In addition, the priest is having doubts about his faith and his ability to do his job.  He is eventually alerted to a problem concerning the nobility in the area, a Count (Jean Riveyre) and Countess, and their teenage daughter.  The daughter, Chantal, visits the church one day and tells the priest about how she despises her parents, particularly her father.  She considers running away to spite him, but the priest talks her out of it.  He later begins visiting the manor in an attempt to talk to Chantal’s parents.  The Countess once lost a young son, and has been in mourning ever since.  She has lost her faith as a result, and even questions the existence of God.  After a rather intense conversation, the priest convinces her that God is real, and that she will one day see her son again.

The priest is elated at this result, but things change dramatically when the Countess dies the next evening.  Before long a rumor starts that it was the conversation with the priest that killed the Countess:  rather than finding peace, like really happened, the rumor says that the priest tried to force absolution on the Countess, who was not completely convinced.  This inner torment, coupled with existing heart problems, killed her.  The problem begins to eat the priest alive, and his health worsens.  Several people, including a fellow priest from a nearby town, try to convince him to change both his physical and spiritual habits, but he resists, saying that he is unable to eat anything or find the will to pray.  However, after passing out in a field one evening, the priest goes to Lille to see a doctor.  The news is grave:  he has stomach cancer.  Rather than returning home, the priest goes to the house of a man who once attended seminary with him, but quit due to health issues.  The man and his live-in girlfriend tend to the priest as best they can, but he dies several days later.

MY TAKE:  Well, the upside of this movie is that there is a discernable plot:  the priest is trying to overcome his own self-doubt, health problems and the dislike of the townspeople in an attempt to do his job.  Unfortunately, a lot of the in-between parts were a mystery to me.  Maybe something gets lost in translation from the French, but a lot of times I felt like I wasn’t sure what the characters were talking about.  The priest mopes around the whole time, usually with a grimace on his face, but doesn’t make an attempt to get medical help until he nearly dies in a field.  Apparently he’s frequently been bleeding from the mouth, but I didn’t figure this out until the end.  Consequently, when he talks about having lost a lot of blood while passed out in that field, I didn’t know why (it’s in black-and-white, so you can’t tell what’s on the ground).  There were a lot of moments like this, where they seemed to be talking about something important, but I didn’t know what.  I was also irritated by the priest’s attitude toward religion and faith.  It seems unusual to me that such a young priest (presumably not long out of seminary) would have such a crisis of faith, and even more unusual that he really doesn’t do anything about it, aside from writing in his journal.  Perhaps he should try praying about it.  He says that he can’t will himself to pray, but I don’t see how it’s that difficult.  He doesn’t have a whole lot else to do.  I’m probably coming off like a real witch, but I found it hard to muster sympathy for the priest, who wouldn’t help himself.

RATING:  Lame.

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