Robert Bresson's portrait of a man in physical and spiritual crisis is deceptively austere. That is, the film's unadorned technique belies the rich subtext; Bresson almost ambushes the viewer with scene after powerful scene of intense drama. The main character, never identified by name, is a young man who is in poor health, a man who cannot communicate effectively with people in a profession dedicated to helping them, a man who is supposed to answer questions of faith but has doubts about his own. When a veteran priest (Andre Guibert) tells his protégé that a "true priest is never loved," he implies that the moral authority of the Church the priest represents should be sufficient to cow his flock into submission. But the young priest's parishioners, from the children in the catechism class who mock him to the Count (Jean Riveyre) who warns him to go slow on any changes to the parish, sense his uncertainty and render him irrelevant. His one breakthrough comes with the Countess (Marie-Monique Arkell), a woman in agony over the loss of a young son and her teenaged daughter's willfulness. The lengthy scene in which she unburdens herself to the priest, turning her sitting room into a kind of home confessional, is the only promise of a sense of purpose for the priest. In a filmography (Un Condamne a Mort C'est Echappe, Pickpocket, Le Proces de Jeanne d'Arc) packed with souls in isolation, none of Bresson's films is more heartbreaking than this portrait of the cleric as a young man.
by Tom Wiener review