This weekend we watched Symphonie pastoral, a film based on a book by André Gide. I highly recommend this film, which is different in style and atmosphere to the French films of its time. (Here are some criticisms of Gide’s story.)

Taking place in the Swiss Alps, it tells the story of a pastor who raises and educated a blind orphan. He becomes obsessed with her–somewhat openly–but rather than objecting, his family believes that the pastor’s devotion is only pity. The girl’s blindness makes her unlovable. In his lessons, the pastor cultivates similar feelings within the girl, encouraging her dependence and admiration of him. The blind girl is also attracted to the pastor’s son, who spends months away from home in order to avoid falling in love with her. When her blindness is cured, she embraces the man she believes to be the pastor, only to discover it is really the son, whom she sees more preferable. Her idealization of her love doesn’t match reality, and she kills herself. (In the book, the tragedy is heightened by putting the son in preparation for the priesthood, against the beliefs of his father. In the movie he is more attainable, being engaged but not married.)

The film is not typically French. It is still years away from the style of the French New Wave (and its obsessive attention to sexuality). But it is different from the French films of its time. It has an atmosphere more akin to the films of Carl Dreyer (like Passion of Joan of Arc and Day of Wrath), but this might be because of the religious themes. It also resembles German-inspired French films like Le jour se leve. My wife also see touches of English films, and I would agree.

Pierre Blanchar is plays the creepy-but-restrained pastor excellently: Christopher Walken would blush. As he teaches the blind girl, he poses with her in front of a mirror, seeing how they would look together (ew). His performance is certainly worth the cost of admission. The film was actually made in the Alps in beautiful wooden houses–how pretty. The interiors give a radiant glow. Finally, there is a beautiful scene in which the son plays the church organ when he first sees how the blind girl has grown up.

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