Posts Tagged ‘Claude Laydu’

When one of my favourite directors Ingmar Bergman passed, I read his obituary in The Guardian. The writer of the obituary paid tribute to Bergman in glowing terms. Of course, he would. But he also mentioned other directors who he said were as great as Bergman. I can’t remember the exact list of those directors, but I think Roberto Rossellini, Federico Fellini and Yasujiro Ozu were on that list. I suspect that Akira Kurosawa, Jean Renoir and François Truffaut might have also been there on that list, but I am not sure. But I definitely remember one name from that list. The writer of that obituary said that this director was the best of them all. I can’t remember whether these were the exact words he used, but he definitely implied that. The Guardian’s articles are always unsentimental. This one was too. But behind that unsentimental façade, I could feel the writer’s admiration trying to burst out, explode. It was the way people talked about Donald Bradman. Or the way Bradman himself talked about Stan McCabe’s innings. Or the way people talked about Jim Laker’s 19 wickets. Or the way people talk about Gary Sobers. Or Keith Miller. Or Victor Trumper. Or Harold Larwood. Or if you like tennis more, the way people talk about Rod Laver. I wondered how it was possible that I hadn’t heard of this director’s name before, this director whom The Guardian’s film correspondent thought was the greatest of alltime. This director’s name was Robert Bresson.

Since I read the article, I have wanted to watch a Robert Bresson film. But for some reason, they were hard to find. Maybe, I didn’t look hard enough. So, I put his name in the list of directors whose movies I would like to watch some day and left it at that. Yesterday, I stumbled upon Robert Bresson’s filmography by accident, and when I browsed through the list, one of the names leapt at me. My heart leapt with it. I opened the shelf which had my DVD collection and rummaged through it. And I found the concerned DVD and took it out. Yes, it was there, in open daylight for all the world to see. I had the DVD of a Robert Bresson movie! It was ‘Diary of a Country Priest‘. How I missed it all these years, I would never be able to understand. I think I I must have got it during the days when I used to do mass DVD shopping, without bothering who the director of a movie was, just going by the title of the film and a brief description of the film on the back cover. Well, I was very excited when I saw the DVD, and couldn’t wait to watch it. I had waited long enough.


The story told in ‘Diary of a Country Priest‘ goes like this. A young priest goes to work in his first parish. The members of his parish are either hostile to him or indifferent to him. The girls in the school play practical jokes on him. The count who is an important person in the town, talks to him politely, but doesn’t help him much. The countess doesn’t care about God because her son died in an accident when he was young. The poor people in the parish are openly hostile to the priest. The priest tries to help everyone, giving them suggestions, intervening in their personal affairs to bring positive change to their lives, but the people in the parish rebuff him. The priest writes about his experiences in a diary. That diary is this movie.

As ‘Diary of a Country Priest‘ is based on a diary, the story is told in the first person. It means that our narrator, the young priest, is there in every scene. We see the events unfolding through his eyes and we see them through his point of view. This is an interesting and difficult way to tell a story. Many scriptwriters and novelists have done that. But somewhere in the middle of the story, most writers find this way of narration too restrictive and add a third person omniscient narrator to keep the story moving. Some writers add a second or third narrator. Roberto Bolaño had a new narrator in every page of his novel ‘The Savage Detectives‘. But ‘Diary of a Country Priest‘ sticks to a single narrator till the end. And pulls it off. That is one of the great achievements of the movie. The second thing that I loved about the movie was the minimalistic music. Music was mostly absent, except in a few scenes, and there were only natural sounds in the movie. It was beautiful to watch. The third thing I loved about the movie was that it was deep and contemplative. Though it had a strong story which was about a priest and his parish and the happenings there, because the story is narrated through the priest’s diary, there are many beautiful, contemplative, deep lines which make us think. Some of those lines ask some profound questions on faith. One of my favourite lines was this one, which the narrator’s mentor speaks to him.

“People don’t hate your simplicity – they shield themselves from it. It’s like a flame that burns them.”

It is no surprise that the movie is based on a novel. One could sense that, when listening to the contemplative lines being spoken – they have a bookish feel to them.

The ending of the story is beautiful, sad and in some way glorious too. You have to watch the movie to find out what that is. Claude Laydu delivers a brilliant performance as the young, idealistic priest.

So, what is the final verdict? I loved ‘Diary of a Country Priest‘. I will be definitely watching more of Bresson’s movies. The big question though is this – is Robert Bresson the greatest film director of all time? I am not sure about that. I have always had a soft corner for Ingmar Bergman. I think he is still my favourite. But I like Bresson. And this is early days yet. So we have to wait and see what happens, while I continue to watch more Bresson movies.

Have you seen ‘Diary of a Country Priest‘? What do you think about it? Have you seen other Robert Bresson movies? Who, according to you, is the greatest film director of alltime?

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