CFS presents “Diary of a Country Priest”

Claire Mitchell

When dealing with the challenges that human faith and spirituality present, it is often difficult for a director to create a film that conveys a certain message without appearing to sermonize. However, the master French director Robert Bresson is able to display a religious experience in his 1950 film “Diary of a Country Priest” without seeming self-righteous.

He portrays the life of a struggling priest in an unfamiliar and unfriendly town within a simple framework but with genuine feeling.

As in most of his other productions, Bresson’s fourth film is based on a literary work. Bresson adapted the story from a successful, prize-winning novel by Georges Bernanos, a prominent conservative Catholic writer. The film follows the story of a pious yet suffering priest attempting to surface after his relocation to a new parish in the French countryside.

He has been thrown into a community in which spirituality is severely declining among its residents. His own spiritual nature isolates him from the very people he is trying to reach. Although the unnamed priest makes several attempts to form a connection with his parishioners by visiting them at home and trying to establish a youth group, his efforts remain unsuccessful.

The hostility of the townspeople turn him into an outsider searching for a way to find his niche in this seemingly closed and unwelcoming society.

As a result of the community’s indifference, the priest experiences a very private yet penetrating crisis of faith. The torment that the priest endures is witnessed by the viewers as he records his experiences in his diary and whispers the events to himself.

It becomes uneasy to watch as this lonely priest slips further and further away from human contact and from his spirituality. Bresson puts a great emphasis on the priest’s gradual detachment from the rest of the world by placing a moment of black between scenes which becomes more pronounced as the film progresses.

His ultimate separation from his faith is seen when the priest faints near the end of the film, which is echoed in the film fading to black. Up until this point, the pauses between scenes foreshadow the priest’s bleak future. This final fade to black is in a sense a symbol for the death of spirituality, the death of religious experience, the death of the other characters, and the death of the priest himself.

The sixth feature in the Cultural Film & Lecture Series’ Spring 2006 roster, “Diary of a Country Priest” will be shown in its original language – French – with English subtitles. It will be screened four times in the Connelly Center Cinema: Saturday, March 18, at 7 p.m., Sunday, March 19 at 3:30 and 7 pm., and Monday, March 20 at 7 p.m. Admission is $3.50 for students with ID and $5 for everyone else. The Monday showing only will feature CFS director John O’Leary, who will provide an intro to the film and lead a discussion afterward.

For more information call the communication department at x9-4750 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., or consult the CFS web page: