Sunday, July 01, 2012


Barny (Emannuelle Riva) is a young widow with a half-Jewish daughter, living in a French town occupied first by the Italians, then by the Nazis. She and her friends, mostly Communists, atheists or Jews, live in fear of their oppressors and some send their children off to be baptized as a safety measure. Adding to Barny's unsettled life, she finds herself entertaining sexual thoughts about Sabine, a female co-worker. In frustration, she goes into a church, intending to basically prank a priest (Jean-Paul Belmondo) in the confessional, but the two wind up in serious conversation. He gives her books to read and soon she is going to his rooms for extended philosophical discussions. Soon she has transferred her lustful feelings from her co-worker to the priest—joining several other women who think he's hot (and he is, because he's Jean-Paul Belmondo). Most of the rest of the film, which ends with the eventual liberation of the town, is carried by the ambiguous tension between the two. Is she after salvation (at one point, she converts to Catholicism) or sex? And what does he get out of the relationship? This leisurely but never boring film from director Jean-Pierre Melville does a nice job of setting up the atmosphere of the town and the circumstances of Barny's life before it plunges her into the emotional chaos of forbidden passion (of more than one kind). Riva is fine but Belmondo is even better—the priest clearly knows he's physically attractive to the women of the village but he never seems to trade on it, or even become tempted to respond, though we never really get to know him well.  Despite the title, the movie is really about Barny, not him. [DVD]

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