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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • French PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Archival interview with director Jean-Pierre Melville and actor Jean-Paul Belmondo
  • Visual essay by French film scholar Ginette Vincendeau
  • Original theatrical trailer

Leon Morin, Priest

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Jean-Pierre Melville
Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Emmanuelle Riva, , Nicole Mirel, , Monique Hennessy
1961 | 117 Minutes | Licensor: Rialto Pictures

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #572 | Out of print
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: July 26, 2011
Review Date: August 7, 2011

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SYNOPSIS

Jean-Paul Belmondo dons clerical robes and delivers a subtly sensual performance for the hot-under-the-collar Léon Morin, Priest, directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. The French superstar plays a devoted man of the cloth who is the crush object of all the women of a small village in Nazi-occupied France. He finds himself most drawn to a sexually frustrated widow-played by Emmanuelle Riva-a borderline heretic whose relationship with her confessor is a confrontation with both God and her own repressed desire. A triumph of mood, setting, and innuendo, Léon Morin, Priest is an irreverent pleasure from one of French cinema's towering virtuosos.

Forum members rate this film 8.2/10

 

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PICTURE

Jean-Pierre Melville’s Leon Morin, Priest gets a Criterion edition on Blu-ray, presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on a dual-layer disc in a new 1080p/24hz transfer.

As expected the high-def transfer looks good. The source used shows some wear-and-tear, with a few blemishes. Chemical stains become prominent during a stretch closer to the end but it doesn’t hamper the presentation much and is easy to overlook. Other than that there’s a few tiny marks and scratches that are barely noticeable.

The digital transfer itself is nice, presenting a sharp picture with excellent detail levels, also retaining the natural grain structure. Contrast is also excellent, with strong white and black levels, clearly defined gray levels, and excellent shadow delineation. Yet again Criterion delivers another strong, filmic presentation.

8/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The lossless French PCM mono track shows its age but is still of decent quality. Music lacks a punch and does come off a bit flat with dialogue also coming off the same. But dialogue is easy to hear and distinct. The track is also clean, free of any distortion or damage.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

The supplements we do get do add value to the edition but at the price of the disc I still can’t overlook how sparse the edition really is.

First is a less-than 5-minute interview with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean-Pierre Melville, recorded for a 1961 episode of the French television program JT 19h15. It concentrates specifically on the odd casting of Belmondo as a priest (the actor, a hot commodity then, was known for more “bad boy” roles you could say). Melville talks about the reasoning for his casting briefly. Brief, and maybe a little fluffy, but it still has some interesting details about Belmondo’s casting.

Carried over from a 2004 DVD edition of the film from BFI, Ginette Vincendeau provides a selected-scene commentary over three sections of the film, including the opening, a mid-section, and a chunk of the finale. In total it runs about 35-minutes and each section has to be viewed individually. There are some general comments about how this film fits in Melville’s filmography, and she talks about the tensions (sexual and otherwise) that occur between the characters, all of which I found interesting, but it seemed pretty standard for a scholarly track and didn’t offer many surprises (she talks about Melville’s experiences during the French resistance but after Criterion’s release of Army of Shadows I didn’t pull anything new from it—though in all fairness this track was made before that DVD and Blu-ray were released.) I perked up more when she would talk about how Catholics reacted to the film and when she makes comparisons with the book; surprisingly the book and film sound to be very close but Melville performed some very minor changes that really alter some sequences. Despite it somehow feeling familiar I enjoyed it and do recommend listening to it. (The feature is standard definition, upscaled, and looks very different from the main feature’s transfer with more marks and scratches, suggesting this was probably lifted straight from the BFI disc.)

A cool little surprise are the two deleted scenes provided next. The notes mention the original cut of the film was over 3 hours before Melville decided to focus more on the relationship between the two leads and less on the “life during wartime” aspect. The first scene, running one-and-a-half minutes, presents more of the people’s fears over the occupation, and even shows Barny’s original feelings for Sabine somewhat subsiding (this is only spoke of in the film). The second excised portion, running 3-minutes, is a really good one where Barny discovers that a new friend she has made could face execution by the Resistance because of her collaboration with the Nazis. It probably could have been left in because it opens a rather interesting theological discussion between Barny and Morin (does she tell this person she faces death?) but then I can see it actually does diverge a bit from the main storyline and is possibly more of a distraction. Since an hour was cut it would have been interesting to see more material, but it’s so rare to come across excised material for older films that I’m still more than happy Criterion included these.

The disc then closes with a 3-minute theatrical trailer and the enclosed booklet includes an essay on the film and its themes by Gary Indiana and a reprint of a 1970 interview with Melville where he goes over the casting, the original three-hour cut (where he expresses how hard it was to cut the latter deleted scene I mention above) and the themes in the film. The essay is fine but if for whatever reason you decide you’re only going to read one item in the booklet I’d go with the interview.

Disappointingly that’s it. What’s a little more frustrating is that I know there’s more out there (the BFI edition included more interviews, including one with director Volker Schlondorff). Plus the price still seems steep for barely 45-minutes worth of stuff. In all I enjoyed the supplements but they’re spare.

5/10

CLOSING

The edition’s transfer is its selling point; it looks great and is very film-like. But because of the slim supplements it’s one I’d recommend picking up on sale (like, say, a Barnes & Noble-like 50%-off sale.)


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