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In the midst of the Nazi occupation, a provincial Frenchwoman (Emmanuelle Riva) falls in love with a young parish priest (Jean-Paul Belmondo) in Jean-Pierre Melville's moving drama of faith tested and confirmed.
Often compared to Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest, Jean-Pierre Melville's Léon Morin, Priest features Jean-Paul Belmondo's favourite of his own performances — though he had to be coaxed into taking the role by Melville, who was seeking to attract mainstream attention for his first film with a relatively large budget. While cashing in on Belmondo and Emmanuelle Riva's cachet as icons of the French New Wave (due to Breathless and Hiroshima mon amour, respectively), Melville brilliantly incorporates the two stars into his own cinematic universe, and his resolute style transforms what might have been a tawdry tale about a woman who falls in love with a handsome priest into an intense, sexually charged study of spiritual crisis and consolation in the midst of war and occupation. Masterfully combining politics and psychology, the sacred and the profane, Léon Morin, Priest is a moving drama of faith tested and confirmed. "[T]he stunningly complex Riva emits a fabulous array of restive expressions, flashing between defiance and abjection, pleasure and anxiety, assurance and perplexity. . . . [Léon Morin, Priest] is an exquisitely circumscribed and powerful picture of how people cope in a world devoid of certainty" (Gary Indiana).