Symphonie Pastorale

At the Brattle

In the winter of 1918 Andre Gide "plunged into that tale of L'Aveugle which has been inhabiting me for so many years and which I was giving up hope of writing." Later he put it into the form of the diary of a pastor living in the Swiss Alps. He gave it the name of Symphonie Pastorale, a recit that frames the story of a blind girl with the judgments, which often appear to be self-deceptions, that the pastor's Christianity allow him.

Though the movie is not seen through the veil of the pastor's judgments, it includes them. So perhaps it runs closer than the recit to Gide's first-imagined tale, which may have been quite simple. The pastor discovers the blind girl when he is called to the bedside of her dying grandmother. The pastor believes it is not by accident that he has come upon the girl, and understands it as his holy obligation to take her home and rescue her.

The girl's presence in the home, and the pastor's growing affection for her, is not easy for his family to bear. This uneasiness lasts throughout the movie. The subsequent events are not embroidery, but deepen the sketch. As an act of charity the pastor had rescued the girl, and when he has come to depend on her presence, it is still charity that he invokes to keep her with him. The pastor, his wife, Amelie, and his son, Jacques, realize all the possibilities of the first uneasiness in the brutal things they eventually say to each other. But the situation does not appear exploited, for each deception appears justified by that which preceded it.

It is useless to talk too much about the movie because it explains itself, so clearly that it would be difficult to see twice. It is unlike Gide's book in which the pastor's assumptions--of his inexhaustible love, or simply of his own correctness--corrupt the world he gives to the blind girl.

While his wife is kind, he observes in his diary, her charity is a little limited, "as if love were an exhaustible treasure."

This kind of assumption underlies the structure of the book. But in the movie it is arrived at, perhaps too directly, as the blind girl's discovery. The director, Jean Delannoy, seems to conjure up the desert he finds in the pastor's heart, in a way that comes near being brutal, especially in the last scenes.

But it isn't a brutal movie. Often it is lovely, thanks to the actors, who are exceptional. None of them overstate their roles. Michele Morgan is additionally the most beautiful actress alive. Next to her, I found Line Noro's performance in the difficult role of Amelie most telling. If you arrive on time, you will also see the second of the Brattle's weekly installments of Vivaldi. They are fine travelogues, and this week's season is Autumn.