La Faute de l'Abbé Mouret (Georges Franju / France, 1970):

"Priesthood is combat." The camera tilts up from youngsters making love on the mud to the disgusted veteran cleric (André Lacombe), currently on break from terrorizing children in the classroom. (The crucifix is nailed to the wall next to a portrait of Napoleon III.) Prematurely wizened Mouret (Francis Huster) agonizes in the rural parish, he’s "the kind of young angel that Satan prefers" and gazes around him to see only restriction and venality. (An old villager’s corpse is barely cold before the heirs are stripping her home for valuables, literally biting each other.) The new Virgin Mary statuette rises out of the crate as if by itself, though the woman who can revive the sallow priest is the nymph in the garden (Gillian Hills), a proud atheist’s sweetly feral niece. Nature has turned the ancient manor into a vast Eden complete with snake, the couple frolic à la mode Aquarius. (The towering tree from Thérèse Desqueyroux is here to cast a baleful shadow.) Georges Franju on Zola in color, where the green-tinged church altar goes blazingly scarlet in one fever-cracked moment. The retelling of Genesis is squarely on the side of original sin: Eve here is rejected in favor of patriarchal dogma and, as befits a story about the different forms of asphyxiation, expires in a bedroom crammed with flowers. ("Dying happily is not forbidden," the lass once murmured.) A certain kinship with the countercultural romanticism of Carné’s Les Jeunes Loups and Huston’s A Walk with Love and Death is detected, though the bereft uncle’s slashing vengeance at the climax is pure Franju. A keen work mostly disprized by the few reviewers who saw it, yet perfectly understood by Truffaut in The Green Room. With Fausto Tozzi, Margo Lion, Lucien Barjon, and Tino Carraro.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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