Diary of a Country Priest (French: Journal d'un curé de campagne) is a 1951 French film written and directed by Robert Bresson, and starring Claude Laydu. It was closely based on the novel of the same name by Georges Bernanos. Published in 1936, the novel received the Grand prix du roman de l'Académie française. It tells the story of a young, sickly priest, who has been assigned to his first parish, a village in northern France.
Diary of a Country Priest was lauded for Laydu's debut performance, which has been called one of the greatest in the history of cinema; the film won numerous awards, including the Grand Prize at the Venice International Film Festival, and the Prix Louis Delluc.
An idealistic young priest arrives at Ambricourt, his new parish. He is not welcome. The girls of the catechism class laugh at him in a prank, whereby only one of them pretends to know the Scriptural basis of the Eucharist so that the rest of them can laugh at their private conversation. His colleagues criticize his diet of bread and wine, and his ascetic lifestyle. Concerned about Chantal, the daughter of the Countess, the priest visits the Countess at the family chateau, and appears to help her resume communion with God after a period of doubt. The Countess dies during the following night, and her daughter spreads false rumors that the priest's harsh words had tormented her to death. Refusing confession, Chantal had previously spoken to the priest about her hatred of her parents.
The older priest from Torcy talks to his younger colleague about his poor diet and lack of prayer, but the younger man seems unable to make changes. After his health worsens, the young priest goes to the city to visit a doctor, who diagnoses him with stomach cancer. The priest goes for refuge to a former colleague, who has lapsed and now works as an apothecary, while living with a woman outside wedlock. The priest dies in the house of his colleague after being absolved by him.
Two famous lines from the film include "God is not a torturer" (Martin Scorsese's favorite line) and "All is grace."Claude Laydu as Priest of Ambricourt
Jean Riveyre as Count (Le Comte)
Adrien Borel as Priest of Torcy (Curé de Torcy) (as Andre Guibert)
Rachel Bérendt as Countess (La Comtesse) (as Marie-Monique Arkell)
Nicole Maurey as Miss Louise
Nicole Ladmiral as Chantal
Martine Lemaire as Séraphita Dumontel
Antoine Balpêtré as Dr. Delbende (Docteur Delbende) (as Balpetre)
Jean Danet as Olivier
Gaston Séverin as Canon (Le Chanoine) (as Gaston Severin)
Yvette Etiévant as Femme de ménage
Bernard Hubrenne as Priest Dufrety
Léon Arvel as Fabregars
Two other French scriptwriters, Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost, had wanted to make film adaptations of the novel. Bernanos rejected Aurenche's first draft. By the time Bresson worked on the screenplay, Bernanos had died. Bresson said he "would have taken more liberties," if Bernanos were still alive.
This film marked a transition period for Bresson, as he began using non-professional actors (with the exception of the Countess). It was also the first film in which Bresson utilized a complex soundtrack and voice-over narration, stating that "an ice-cold commentary can warm, by contrast, tepid dialogues in a film. Phenomenon analogues to that of hot and cold in painting."
Guy Lefranc was assistant director on the movie.
Diary of a Country Priest was a financial success in France and established Bresson's international reputation as a major film director. Film critic André Bazin wrote an entire essay on the film, calling it a masterpiece "because of its power to stir the emotions, rather than the intelligence." Claude Laydu's debut performance in the title role has been described as one of the greatest in the history of film. Jean Tulard, in his Dictionary of Film, wrote of him in this work, "No other actor deserves to go to heaven as much as Laydu."
Diary of a Country Priest continues to receive high praise today; Rotten Tomatoes reports 94% approval among 35 critics, with an average rating of 8.7/10. French journalist Frédéric Bonnaud praised Bresson's minimalist approach to the film's setting and argued, "For the first time in French cinema, the less the environment is shown, the more it resonates [...] ubiquitous and constant, persistent and unchanging, it doesn’t need to be shown: its evocation through sound is enough. It’s a veritable prison." American director Martin Scorsese said the film influenced his own Taxi Driver (1976).
The film won eight international awards, including the Grand Prize at the Venice International Film Festival, and the Prix Louis Delluc.