Léon Morin, Priest

Léon Morin, Priest (French: Léon Morin, prêtre) is a 1961 French drama film directed and scripted by Jean-Pierre Melville, and starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Emmanuelle Riva. Its plot follows a jaded, lapsed Catholic widow of a Jewish husband, who finds herself falling in love with a young, altruistic priest during the Occupation of France. It is based on the 1952 Prix Goncourt-winning novel The Passionate Heart (French: Léon Morin, prêtre) by Béatrix Beck.

Léon Morin, Priest
Film poster
Directed byJean-Pierre Melville
Produced byGeorges de Beauregard
Carlo Ponti
Screenplay byJean-Pierre Melville
Based onLéon Morin, prêtre
by Béatrix Beck
Music byMartial Solal
CinematographyHenri Decaë
Edited byJacqueline Meppiel
Nadine Trintignant
Marie-Josèphe Yoyotte
Distributed byLux Compagnie Cinématographique de France
Release date
  • 22 September 1961 (1961-09-22)
Running time
117 minutes
Box office1,703,758 admissions (France)[1]

Belmondo was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actor.


Barny is a young, widowed mother living in a small town in the French Alps during the Occupation of France, whose Jewish husband was killed in the war. The jaded and sexually-frustrated Barny works as a secretary in the local school, and finds herself allured by her female boss, Sabine. A lapsed Catholic-turned-atheist, Barny is cynical about religion and is a militant communist.

As a source of amusement, Barny one day enters a church in town randomly chooses a priest to make a confession to. She decides on the young Léon Morin, as she observes that his name does not sound bourgeois in nature. While in confessional, Barny attempts to provoke Léon by criticizing Catholicism. Instead of being affronted, the priest engages her in an intellectual discussion regarding religion. The handsome and altruistic Léon invites Barny to continue the conversation outside of confessional, which she skeptically obliges.

Barny begins regularly visiting Léon and is impressed by his moral strength, while he makes it his mission to steer her onto the right path. Though she claims to no longer believe in God, Barny finds herself engaged by Léon's musings, philosophies, and readings of biblical stories. When Germans arrive in the town, Barny sends her daughter to live on a secluded farm, fearing that she will be taken by Nazis because she is half-Jewish. She subsequently learns that Sabine's brother has been taken to a concentration camp. To further protect her daughter, Barny decides to have her baptized in the Catholic church by Léon.

Barny ultimately decides to return to the church herself, though she is conflicted by her feelings for Léon, which have grown romantic in nature. When Barny asks Léon if he would marry her were he a Protestant priest, he appears visibly perturbed. Barny is devastated to discover that Léon is being transferred to another parish, and is due to leave. On the night before his departure, Barny goes to visit him in his bare apartment. The two engage in a brief conversation before Barny bids Léon farewell. He tells her they will meet again, in another life. Barny tearfully leaves, thanking Léon.



Critical receptionEdit

Roger Ebert added the film to his Great Movies list in 2009.[2]

Home mediaEdit

The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray by The Criterion Collection in July 2011.[3] In 2019, Kino Lorber released a new Blu-ray featuring a 4K-restoration of the 128-minute director's cut of the film.[4]


  1. ^ Box office information for film at Box Office Story
  2. ^ "Leon Morin, Priest Movie Review". Roger Ebert. October 21, 2009.
  3. ^ "Léon Morin, Priest". The Criterion Collection.
  4. ^ Smith, Derek (8 July 2019). "Bob le Flambeur, Le Doulos, and Leon Morin, Priest on Kino Lorber Blu-ray". Slant Magazine. Archived from the original on 28 March 2021.

External linksEdit