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Léon Morin, Priest(1961)
In World War II, the widow Barny sees the Italian soldiers arriving in occupied Saint Bernard while walking to her job. Barny lives with her daughter and works correcting tests and feels a great attraction toward her boss Sabine. When the Germans arrive, Barny sends her half-Jewish daughter to live in a farm in the countryside and finds that Sabine's brother has been arrested and sent to a concentration camp. The atheist Barny decides to baptize her daughter to protect her and chooses priest Léon Morin to discuss with him themes related to religion and Catholicism and Léon lends books to her. Barny converts to the Catholicism and becomes closer to Léon, feeling an unrequited desire for him.
For more about Léon Morin, Priest and the Léon Morin, Priest Blu-ray release, see Léon Morin, Priest Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on August 8, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Emmanuelle Riva, Irène Tunc, Howard Vernon (I), Patricia Gozzi
Narrator: Emmanuelle Riva
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
» See full cast & crew
Léon Morin, Priest Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, August 8, 2011
Jean-Pierre Melville's "Léon Morin, prêtre" a.k.a "Leon Morin, Priest" (1961) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on the disc include the film's original theatrical trailer; excerpt from an episode of the French television program JT 19H15; selected-scene commentary by film scholar and Jean-Pierre Melville expert Ginette Vincendeau; and deleted scenes. The disc also arrives with a 28-page illustrated booklet featuring Gary Indiana's essay "Life During Wartime" and an interview with director Jean-Pierre Melville conducted by Rui Nogueira. In French, with optional English subtitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked".
A small town in Nazi-occupied France. Barny (Emmanuelle Riva, Hiroshima Mon Amour, Therese) is a beautiful, sexually frustrated widow taking care of her half-Jewish daughter. She is also a communist attracted to her boss (Nicole Mirel, Un Martien à Paris), an elegant and proud young woman. She often fantasizes about being with her, and eventually comes to terms with the fact that she has fallen in love.
Even though she is an atheist, Barny decides to see a priest. She does not necessarily have any questions for him, and certainly isn't planning to confess her sins; she simply wants to confront a man of the cloth because it will make her feel better about herself.
She chooses Father Morin (Breathless, Pierrot le fou), a young, handsome and intelligent man. The two begin seeing each other and soon Barny reveals to him how she feels about her coworker. Father Morin explains that her appeal isn't surprising because it comes from her authority – it is what most women like Barny find attractive in men her age. But all of the young men in the town have gone to war, which is why she has fallen in love with her coworker. Father Morin's explanation surprises Barny.
As time goes by, the conversations between Father Morin and Barny become longer and more intense. He challenges her perceptions about life, love and God, but does not attempt to replace them. Eventually, she decides to accept Catholicism. But is it because she has discovered God or because of her desire for a man who has touched her heart?
There is a lot of talk in Jean-Pierre Melville's Leon Morin, Priest about faith and God, but the film is about something else -- a doomed relationship between a believer and an atheist. Part of the film is also about life during the Nazi occupation of France, its unpredictability and chaotic forcefulness, affecting the way people communicate and ultimately judge each other.
It may seem like the film has a fairly straightforward narrative, but its progression is unpredictable. Barny and Father Morin undergo serious character transformations that repeatedly change the tone of their discussions, ultimately making it quite difficult to tell who the stronger figure is -- or if one of them is actually stronger. When frustration enters their lives, and this happens when they both realize that they have converted each other -- Barny accepting Catholicism, while Father Morin accepting the fact that he is still a man who takes pleasure in provoking and exciting women -- both choose to capitulate.
Based on Béatrix Beck's novel (available in English as The Passionate Heart), Leon Morin, Priest was Melville's first big budget film. It was produced by the legendary Carlo Ponti (La Strada, Doctor Zhivago) and Georges de Beauregard (Breathless, Le mépris).
Leon Morin, Priest audaciously blends the expressiveness and fluidity of movement typical for the French nouvelle vague films and the lyrical simplicity of classic American noir films. Unlike Melville's previous films, it was made to appeal to a mass audience and be financially successful -- and the film certainly delivered, becoming a massive box office success in France and a number of European countries. Excluding a few large leftist newspapers in France, the film was also favorably received by the critics. In 1961, it was awarded the prestigious Grand Prix at the Venice Film Festival.
Léon Morin, Priest Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Jean-Pierre Melville's Leon Morin, Priest arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"This new high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit 4K Datacine from a 35mm fine-grain master positive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS system and Pixel Farm's PFClean system, while Digital Vision DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction.
Telecine supervisor: Lee Kline.
Telecine colorist: Gilles Granier/Scanlab, Paris."
Detail and clarity are excellent -- during close-ups the image conveys tremendous depth (see screencapture #11), while the outdoor scenes are never plagued by blocky artifacts. Contrast levels are also convincing. Furthermore, color reproduction is practically flawless -- there is a wide range of blacks, grays and whites that look notably fresh and natural. There are no traces of overzealous sharpening. Though some noise corrections have been performed, the integrity of the image is very much intact, and a layer of light grain is present throughout the entire film. There are no serious stability issues. Large damage marks, cuts, warps, or stains do not plague the high-definition transfer either. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Léon Morin, Priest Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: French LPCM 1.0 (with portions of English and German). For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm optical print. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum, were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integrated workstation."
The French LPCM 1.0 track is excellent. Martial Solal's music score gets a decent boost, but it is the crisp and clean dialog that impresses the most. There are absolutely no distortions, cracks, excessive hiss, or audio dropouts. Finally, the English translation is excellent.
Léon Morin, Priest Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Léon Morin, Priest Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Jean-Pierre Melville's Leon Morin, Priest is an elegant, entertaining and thought-provoking film, which audaciously blends the expressiveness and fluidity of movement typical for the French nouvelle vague films and the lyrical simplicity of classic American noir films. The film features unforgettable performances by two of the nouvelle vague's biggest stars - Jean-Paul Belmondo and Emmanuelle Riva. As expected, Criterion's Blu-ray release of Leon Morin, Priest does not disappoint. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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