Emmanuelle Riva: The Francesca da Rimini of French Cinema

Emmanuelle Riva dies on the same day as John Hurt. I’ve always thought he was gay. He wasn’t. Maybe God intended them to be a match in whatever afterlife exists for great actors.

Most people know Emmanuelle Riva from the film Amour as an elderly woman. Very few Americans have seen her in Léon Morin, Priest, by Jean-Pierre Melville, where she plays a young widow during the Nazi occupation of France. I don’t know why Melville was disappointed with Léon Morin, Priest, but it’s one of my favorite movies about unrequited love. It’s worth seeing if you can find a copy. I’d be interested in knowing what everybody thinks of Belmondo’s character. Was he an asshole leading her on? Or was he a sincere man trying to save her soul from her own lust?

Writers Without Money


Many American street preachers will tell you that they get most of their converts from hecklers. Unlike people who walk by your fire and brimstone sermon without comment, hecklers are passionate, engaged. Even if they only want to prove you wrong, they’re still interested in what you have to say. In Jean-Pierre Melville’s criminally neglected film Léon Morin, Priest (1961), Barny (no that’s not a typo and no I’ve never heard that name before either), a beautiful young widow in her twenties played by Emmanuelle Riva, is ripe for conversion. A teacher at a correspondence school which has been moved away from the German occupation in Paris to a small town in the Alps, she’s bored. Not to put too fine a point on it, she’s horny. Not only was her husband, a Jewish communist, killed in the Battle of France, most of the men in their twenties…

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