Diary of a Country Priest (1951)

Comparisons will get you nowhere with "Diary of a Country Priest". Though the film resembles many other films, comparatives would be useless. If you judge the "town mentality" of the movie, it might appear that this film predates "The White Ribbon" or even "The Village". But if you look at the priest himself, you might find yourself likening the film to "Doubt" or even "The Exorcist". Yet "Diary of a Country Priest", though blandly titled, is nothing except its own film. It may use techniques and ideas from the past, but this little seen film encompasses so much with so little.
Beginning as a very young priest (played by Claude Laydu who was only 23 at the time) enters a small village as the vicar, the movie sets him up as an outsider. The ways of the villagers are secretive and he rarely finds himself in their company with their permission. There is only one woman who comes to mass everyday, but the priest can hardly call himself acquainted with the lady.
The priest is a sick man. He can eat no meat and he has no wife that will eat no lean. The only dinners he finds that he can stomach are bread and wine...literally. He will take stale pieces of bread and let them soak in the wine and then drink that—he believes that it is making him healthier.
Though the chain of events is slow, it is started off with the priest wishing to be a little more inviting. He wants to make minor changes to the church including adding electric lights; but he is held up by politics and stubbornness.
He learns of a Count and Countess and their daughter. He has to involve himself in their lives because it's his duty, but he'd probably rather not. These are resilient people, resentful of him sticking his nose into their business.
"Diary of a County Priest" makes you really feel for the main character. It's his voice that we hear all movie long, through narration of his diary. He condenses his experience in as little words as possible, leaving time for the visuals to make up for his lack of description.
Perhaps the most laudable thing about "Diary of a Country Priest" is how it tackles religions itself. I know it's silly to think that a movie about a priest wouldn't have religion in it, but the film's take on the subject is undeniably effective.
Religion is a belief and that belief is taught by the priest. Yet he does not masquerade as if he doesn't have doubts. He freely admits to it, while still holding fast to the teachings.
The most important and the best written scene involves the Countess and the priest having a discussion. She wishes for happiness and forgiveness, maybe intangible things for her. He tells her that she must be more loving. She questions the nature of God. He answers as best he can.
Near the end of the scene she remarks that her life was orderly and precise until he said something. Her foundations crumble, but it brings her the sweetest peace.
"Diary of a Country Priest" is about blind faith. Accepting that which was cannot believe to be just. It's about faith during hardships and trials—a staple in the teaching of Christianity.
As much as the film revolves around religion, it never feels like it's preaching and for that reason, it is great.
It causes despair, joy, and intellectual thought. This is the kind of movie that should be made today. Christian studios have been made fun of for their films...indeed, most everyone is terrible. If you're looking for a faith-based film, you should take your cues from movies like this.

Score: ★★★★

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