My husband, M, and I have been searching for well-made, artistic, and beautiful Catholic movies since we were dating. We have watched our way through many recommendations, and enjoyed a great number of them, but rarely have we found ones as true to Catholicism as the 1951 French film Diary of a Country Priest (Journal d’un curé de campagne) directed by Robert Bresson. It is based very closely to the 1937 novel by Georges Bernanos, and while I have not yet read the novel myself, I have my husband’s word for it. (We are pretty picky about movies following the books they are based on, so you can trust me here.) The movie is not an action-packed thriller, but it is a story of a young priest’s soul as he faces ill-health while assigned to a hostile country parish.
The actor Claude Laydu, portrays the priest excellently, especially
in how he shows the anguish and suffering he experiences in his lonely
life. The priest essentially has no friends, except for a mentor priest
in a neighboring parish, and not even a name in the script, simply
“Priest of Ambricourt.” The story is told from the priest’s point of
view, largely narrated from his diary. It is a very intimate encounter
with this simple priest as you hear his innermost thoughts. You can
really see and feel his loneliness before others and before God, and how
he uses his suffering as an offering. It is not a coincidence that the
film shows him celebrating the sacrifice of the Mass.
Most of the movie
switches between him performing his duties as pastor to his parishioners
and him writing in his journal and trying to pray. Even in his most
despairing moments of physical and mental suffering, the priest never
stops seeking God and never stops trying to be God to others. He does
not really even question why there is suffering and loneliness, but
accepts them as part of human existence. He continues in his ministry,
seeking to help others, despite their hostility, and is often at a loss
as to if he is helping anyone at all. His fumbling about in his vocation
is something very real and very true human experience. Do not we all
wonder at the effectiveness of the good we are trying to do? And do we
often seek God and wonder why we are unable to pray?
What makes this movie so beautiful is that it takes the life of a
suffering individual and shows that it means something. Grace is
working in the smallest things, and God has not abandoned those who
suffer. It shows how the simplest priest reaches out to God, and does
not understand how God is working in him, but God does work through him.
It is simple faith that makes one great in daily trials, and that helps
one persevere in the great difficulties. And in the end, “All is
Now, I would not recommend purchasing this movie unless you have a lot of money to dispose of (the book is
more affordable), but we found it at a library and it is possible that
it might be rented from other places. It is well worth a viewing, and a
few days reflection. Just as a warning, it is in a foreign language and
it does have subtitles. Being a movie from Western Europe, it is able to
capture Catholicism in a way that is quite different from American
cinema. The rich Catholic history of France, even with its recent
atheist tendencies, has not been forgotten. Catholicism is still so
present in Western Europe in the architecture and in the history.
ancestors largely from Western Europe, I have found that by learning
more about their culture, I understand more about myself. And the
Catholic history is not something that can ever be fully thrown aside.
The hostility of the parishioners in Diary of a Country Priest
could be compared to the hostility of modern Western society towards
the Church, and that is another reason to watch the movie and see how
everything we have and do is through grace.
Originally posted at Truth and Charity...