This is the section of "A Certain Tendency of French Cinema" that deals with Diary of a Country Priest. It is my translation. For my translation of the entire essay, click here, and you will be taken to my regular blog.
What troubles me about this much talked about process of equivalence is that I am not at all certain that a novel includes scenes that are not filmable, and yet less certain that the scenes ordained as not filmable be so for everyone. Praising Robert Bresson for his faithfulness to Georges Bernanos, Andre Bazin finished his excellent article, The Style of Robert Bresson with these words, “After The Diary of a Country Priest, Aurenche and Bost are nothing more than the Viollet-Leduc of adaptation.”
All those who know well and admire Bresson’s film remember the admirable scene in the confessional where Chantal’s face “began to appear little by little, par degrees” (Georges Bernanos). When several years prior to Bresson, Aurenche had written an adaptation of Diary of a Country Priest, an adaptation rejected by Georges Bernanos, Aurenche judged that scene to be not filmable and substituted the scene reproduced here:
“Do you want me to hear you here?” (He points to the confessional.)
“I never go to confession”
“However, you must have gone to confess yesterday since you received communion this morning”
“I did not receive communion”.He looks at her, very surprised.
“Pardon me I gave you communion”.
She move rapidly towards the pew that she had occupied that morning.“Come and see”
The priest follows her. Chantal points to the missal she had left there.“Look in this book, Monsieur. I probably no longer have the right to touch it.”
The priest, most intrigued, opens the book and discovers between two pages the host there that Chantal had spit out. His face is dumbfounded and shattered.“I spit the host out” Chantal says.
“I see” the priest says in neutral tones.
“You have never seen that, have you?” Chantal says, hard and almost triumphant.
“No, never” the priest says appearing calm.
“And do you know what must be done?”
The priest closes his eyes for a brief second, thinking it over or praying. He says “ This is very simple to repair, Miss. But it is horrible to commit.”He heads towards the altar carrying the open book.
Chantal follows him.“No it is not horrible. what is horrible is to receive the host in a state of sin.“
“So you are in a state of sin”
“Less than others. but it is all the same to them.”
“Do not judge”.
“I don’t judge, I condemn.” Chantal says violently.
“Be quiet before the body of Christ.”He kneels before the altar, takes the host from the book and shallows it.
A discussion on faith in the middle of the novel pitted the priest against an obtuse atheist named Arsene. “When one dies, everything dies”. This discussion in the Aurenche-Bost adaptation takes place over the priest’s grave between Arsene and a different priest and ends that film. “When one dies, everything dies” would have been the last line of that film. The one that carried it. Maybe, the only one that the public remembered. Bernanos did not conclude with, “When one dies, everything dies” but “Whatever happens, all is grace”.“To invent without betrayal”, you say. It seems to me to be a case of quite a little bit of invention for a great deal of betrayal. A detail or two still. Aurenche and Bost could not make Diary of a Country Priest because Bernanos was living. Robert Bresson has declared that, Bernanos being alive, he would have taken more liberty with the book. So, Aurenche and Bost are inconvenienced by Bernanos’ being alive, while Robert Bresson is inconvenienced by Bernanos’ being dead..
Truffaut, unless for some reason he cut short the ending of the scene between Chantal and the priest, shows a slight discrepancy between the screenplay and the Bernanos's resumé. Bernanos has Chantal taunt the curé of Ambricourt for swallowing the host that she had spit out, while Truffaut's report does not bear Bernanos's memory out in this one small regard. Since Truffaut would have no reason to suppress that incident, it is most likely that this is a case of Bernanos projecting himself into the scene. Small difference, but interesting.
continues at: André Bazin and the stylistics of Robert Bresson