“The full scope of the film's brilliance hits you with the force of a knockout punch”
An earnest and idealistic young priest (Claude Laydu), arrives in Ambricourt to take up his first post at the local parish. Upon arriving, the local children tease him, his colleagues criticise him and when he gives mass only one person attends. Plagued by a stomach problem, he can only eat wine-soaked bread, attracting further scorn and misunderstanding. When intervening in the affairs of the local Countess and her family – an elderly woman in pain, her adulterous husband and their mischievous daughter – inspires a scandal, the young priest's faltering faith is further eroded.
The beautifully austere Diary of a Country Priest marks a major creative turning point in the work of director Robert Bresson. Unlike his previous films, Bresson cast mostly untrained or non-professional actors, setting a career trajectory where he would strip away any form of acting from his casts' performances. This can't be said so much for Claude Laydu, whose BAFTA award-winning performance is considered one of the best in cinema history. This performance, along with the priest's journal, thoroughly reflects the strain of parishioners' treatment, his declining health and his relationship with God.
When Andrei Tarkovsky compiled his list of top 10 in 1972, Diary of a Country Priest was at the top of the list. Other notable admirers include Paul Schrader and Martin Scorsese, who credit the film with inspiring Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle.