The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, August 19-25

leon_morin_priest

Léon Morin, Priest (1961)
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
A woman gets the hots for a local priest in a small French Alps town during and after the Occupation in World War II: sounds like the premise of a disreputable exploitation flick. But while it would be a stretch to call Léon Morin, Priest a religious picture, Melville’s drama is hardly blasphemous. Even if the emphasis during the extended verbal tête-à-têtes between the titular priest (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and widowed single mother Barny (Emmanuelle Riva) is more on worldly erotic subtext than the spiritually lofty surface, the atheistic Melville nevertheless evinces a measure of respect for Morin’s conviction, even as the priest’s awareness of his own sexual magnetism remains tantalizingly ambiguous. Ultimately, though, this is Riva’s picture, with her astonishing emotional transparency giving heft to perhaps the closest Melville came to making a “women’s picture,” one infused with a sensitive feminine perspective mostly foreign from his stoic crime pictures. But Léon Morin, Priest even points the way for later films like Le Samourai, Le Cercle Rouge and, supremely, Army of Shadows. The emotions his later assassins and resistance fighters repress through actions and ritual, Léon Morin and Barny contain through volleys of words that ultimately conceal more than they reveal. Kenji Fujishima (August 20, 7pm; August 23, 2:30pm at MoMA’s “Scorsese Screens”)

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