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A masterpiece that would be the template for all of Bresson’s subsequent films, Diary of a Country Priest is characterized above all by a search for authenticity. The function of art, the filmmaker maintained, “is to tie new relationships between persons and things which are, and as they are.” How do you document a soul? As Bresson’s first film in the six years since Les dames du Bois de Boulogne, Diary was clearly influenced by Italian neorealism—shot entirely on location with non-actors and a measure of social criticism. In his recent book on Bresson, Tony Pipolo suggests that the movie’s concluding durational shots were inspired by Rossellini’s Open City and Paisan: “It would be hard to find comparable use of the static long take until the mature work of Antonioni or the avant-garde cinema of the 1960s.”

Few artists since the Renaissance have so convincingly wed the aesthetic to the spiritual. Diary’s final shot makes its allegory absolutely apparent even as the priest’s last words—“All is grace”—suggest cinema itself is the holy sacrament.

Monk-y business: The brothers take a vote in Of Gods and Men.
Sony Pictures Classics
Monk-y business: The brothers take a vote in Of Gods and Men.
Father knows best: Country Priest Laydu contemplates the divine.
Rialto Pictures
Father knows best: Country Priest Laydu contemplates the divine.

Details

Of Gods and Men
Directed by Xavier Beauvois
Sony Pictures Classics
Opens February 25

Diary of a Country Priest
Written and directed by Robert Bresson
Rialto Pictures
Film Forum
February 25 through March 10

jhoberman@villagevoice.com

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