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Léon Morin, Priest
The Criterion Collection

review by Zach B.



Not Rated

Running Time: 117 Minutes

Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Emmanuelle Riva

Screenplay by: Jean-Pierre Melville
Based on the novel by: Béatrix Beck

Directed by: Jean-Pierre Melville


Studio: Criterion

Retail Price: $39.95

Features: Jean-Pierre Melville and Jean-Paul Belmondo Interview, Selected-Scene Commentary by Film Scholar Ginette Vincendeau, Deleted Scenes, Original Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 1.66:1 Widescreen 1080p High Definition, French PCM Mono, English Subtitles, Chapters (23 Chapters)

Released: July 26th, 2011

Léon Morin, Priest is presented in a 1080p High Definition transfer, with the widescreen aspect ratio of 1.66:1. For this release, Criterion digitally restored the film. Keep in mind that the picture is 50 years old now, so it's not perfect despite the clean-up: dirt pieces, scratches and blemishes are on the print, but it's not as bad as you would expect. There is a bit of shimmering at times, but largely, this is a sharp transfer that features some great detail. The movie's black and white cinematography is pretty well-refined, and the amount of grain — to showcase the texture — is balanced well. Despite the film's age, this transfer does have its pleasures. 

Léon Morin, Priest features an uncompressed French Mono track. It is a limited track, but everything comes in clear — and I did not detect any hissing, audio scratches or other flaws. Dialogue is crisp, the sound effects (be it typewriters or outside marching) sound fine and the musical cues do have a little bit of power. This is simple and straightforward.

English subtitles are included.


Leading things off is a Jean-Pierre Melville and Jean-Paul Belmondo Interview that lasts almost 5 minutes. The director and actor talk about their partnership and work on the film. This little bit is excerpted from the French television program JT 19H15, and was originally broadcast in September 1961. 

Originally recorded for the British Film Institute, there is Selected-Scene Commentary by Film Scholar Ginette Vincendeau. The scholar talks the viewer through chapters 1-2, 6-7 and 17-20 on the disc. It may not run for the whole film, but Vincendeau is able to go through quite a bit: French history, character motivations and how the movie became a new pinpoint for Melville's style. 

This is a treat: two Deleted Scenes from the film, complete with text introductions to provide context. They only run about four-and-a-half minutes in total, but are still worthy of viewing. The Original Theatrical Trailer is also included, and the Criterion booklet has an essay by critic and novelist Gary Indiana, plus excerpts from Melville on Melville.


Léon Morin, Priest
is a riveting character piece with a serious backdrop from the famed Jean-Pierre Melville. Criterion has delivered a very fine presentation for this 50 year-old film, with a few small supplements to slightly enhance context. Foreign film aficionados should not miss this one.