Our protagonist is Barny (Emmanuelle Riva), who corrects papers for a correspondence school that relocated its headquarters for the duration. Her husband is gone and she's sent her daughter to be taken care of in the country. With most of the young men gone and with the Italians more an object of curiosity than anything else, the atmosphere isn't exactly oppressive at first. In fact, it seems fraught with transgressive potential to the Barny, who struggles with an unanticipated infatuation with her supervisor Sabine, whom she describes as an amazon and a samurai (!!!). She wants her friends to know that she's attracted to Sabine to the extent that the tall, composed woman resembles a handsome young man -- and this caveat seems sincere, considering that she soon becomes infatuated with one of the few remaining handsome young men in town, our title character (Jean-Paul Belmondo).
Father Morin prefers resisting temptation to resisting occupation for some reason.Leon Morin, Pretre certainly has a different atmosphere from any Melville film I've seen to date. This tale of the Occupation has a perversely idyllic feel. Barny's community is a place where the girls gush over the Italians and their feathered hats, and where Barny's little girl France (where else can a child be named after her country?) befriends a gentle German soldier. Melville makes a point of never showing the Resistance in action, though they're often heard offscreen. We hardly see the bad guys do more than parade or drill; a German hassles Barny at a checkpoint once, but lets her go with little fuss. In fact, her greatest peril comes after the Americans liberate the town; a G.I. is persuaded only with great effort by his buddy not to rape our heroine. We're dealing with people out of the loop of history, who aren't part of the heroic national narrative of Resistance but aren't collaborators either -- for the most part. Life goes on, but not quite, and disruptions like Barny's successive crushes result.
Sexual harrassment or just plain harrassment? The office is Barny's battlefield in this war.
Leon Morin is proof that Melville wasn't a creature of genre but had visual and narrative gifts to bring to any story material. He makes Barny's flirtation with Morin nearly as intriguing as any of his capers or chases in his classic crime stories. I'm not ready to rank this one above his later crime epics -- except perhaps for Un Flic -- but Morin is still an impressive achievement, and one that has me impatient for Criterion to haul in the rest of the Melvilles I haven't seen. How about this time next year?
For now, how about a trailer? This one, with English subtitles, was uploaded to YouTube by ClassicMovieTrailers.