Saturday 20 December 2014

Diary of a Country Priest (Journal d'un Cure de Campagne) (1951)

En Landsbypræsts Dagbog
I will have to make my excuses right away. I feel hopelessly inadequate to review or even comment on “Journal d’un curé de campagne” (Diary of a Country Priest). I did not understand the movie and I am ill-equipped to understand the themes of it. I tried reading the synopsis in the Book, but it just gives me some gibberish about movie art and Christian themes. Wikipedia did not help me much either, so I am really at a loss.

I can try to line up what I did get from the movie, if for no other reason than to point out why this movie baffles me.

We follow a young priest (Claude Laydu) whose name we actually never learn, or maybe we do, but I did not catch it. He is arriving at the start of the film to a small village in the middle of nowhere. The priest is feeling terribly sorry for himself. He is narrating as he scribbles in his diary and this is mostly about how sick he is, how terrible he feels, how he doubt and to a small, but increasing extent about the other people in the village. It is really an obsession with him and he believes that the only thing he can eat is dry bread soaked in wine and only little of it. Frankly if this was all I ate I would feel pretty weak as well.

20 minutes in, this is really all that happens. By 40 minutes he is chatting with some of the villagers, another priest who think he should pull himself together and the local count who may be helping him with some social events. Or maybe not. There is a story or sub-story about the count, his wife, daughter and the daughter’s governess. I am not sure what is going on though. Something about that the daughter is pissed at all of them and want to be free, that the count is having some affairs. And that the wife is obsessing about her dead son to the exclusion of everything else. I did understand that the priest is somehow unlocking the wife’s grief and she then dies a peaceful death.

The villagers start talking about how weird he is and that he is a drunkard, he really has not given them reason for any other impression and fainting in the oddest places does not help. He goes to town to see a doctor and finds out that it is not that noble, intellectual disease tuberculosis that he is suffering from but a much more profane stomach cancer, which I guess is caused by his stupid diet. The priest goes to an old colleague who is priest no more and lives with a girl without being married. Here he dies.


I am sure there is a purpose to the movie and some religious themes, maybe even humanistic themes, but they all escaped me. There is something about the format of the movie that repulses my attention so I was probably not giving it the necessary attention as much as I tried. It is tiring and frankly more than a bit annoying to hear this priest complain about all his suffering. I desperately want to stuff some proper food down his throat and make him lift his gaze from himself. The dialogue is highbrow in a way that makes it sound like reading from a book, even in the English translation. Proper attention would require to pause the movie at every sentence to contemplate the meaning of what is said and as I did not do that I likely missed critical elements of the movie.

Another problem between me and this movie is the religious angle. I am not a religious person and many of the concepts natural for the religious just play no part in my life and I have no relation to it. I feel that there are many references in this movie, allegories, metaphors that simply goes over my head. Is this some sort of Christ story? Is this about saints? Is it about forgiveness and faith? I just do not know. Maybe, is my best answer.

Finally I am just not that interesting. From the beginning I never felt compelled to dig into this story. There was nothing for me to latch onto and I did not feel that curiosity that makes me think about the movie. Two minutes before it ended I was desperately hoping for that epiphany that would open the movie to me, but it never happened. He just died.

I cannot rate this movie. Or rather, I should not rate this movie. That I will leave to those better suited for understanding it. As for entertainment value… It can only really go forward from here.


  1. Welcome to the age of cinema where films stopped making sense and your theary is just as good as anyone else's. There are many many more on the list. Thankfully you will not encounter too many for quite some time, though.

    I saw this about 3-4 years ago and all I remembered at this point was him eating bread and wine and fainting a lot. For what it's worth: bread and wine are the two edibles associated with Jesus that are part of the Catholic religious services. He turned water into wine so priests drink wine during the service and believe it transmutes into the blood of Christ. And he distributed bread at the last supper and told his acolytes that it was his flesh. The wafers that Catholics are given during a service represent that and they believe that they transmute into the flesh of Christ. So yes, the Catholic ceremonies are symblic cannabalism, if you think about it. Robert Heinlein took that to the literal degree in his classic novel Stranger in a Strange Land.

  2. Hmmm... yes, that makes some soret of sense. I had not thought of the blood and flesh connection. So, he is essentially giving himself a continous communion... unfortunately that does not really help me much in understanding the movie. Why does he do that? Is it part of some super-devotional sacrifice? Does he want to be Christ?
    I read Stranger in a Strange land many years ago, but remembers very little. Not that part at least.
    But thanks anyway.

  3. I can see why this film is influential. I just can't see a reason to like it very much. I tried--I really did, but it left me cold. A lot of that is the priest character himself, who doesn't seem to do much but listen to people and faint.

    1. Well, I even missed the influential part... The priest is an obstacle all on his own. Everything about him is so internalized that he is hardly there, obsessed as he is in his own pain.

  4. I saw this several years ago and, like you, all I really remember is the diet and the fainting. But even though it makes no sense, I think that bread and wine was all the priest could tolerate on his cancerous stomach. Interestingly, the title character in Ikiru is also practically living on wine at one point. He finds something more interesting to do with his time though. I had kind of a non-reaction to this one.

    1. The question is, was the cancer the reason for his diet or was the diet the reason for the cancer? As far as I know, a persistent diet of alcohol may very well cause stomach cancer. In which case he is no holy man, but a fool.