Marking Joaquim Pedro de Andrade’s first feature film, The Priest and the Girl hews closer to naturalism than modernism in its stark and muted Emile Zola-like tale of a young priest (Paulo José) who has been summoned to a small rural village in Minas Gerais in order to dispense extreme unction for the town’s terminally ill priest and assume his parish. A transgression is suggested in the dying priest’s utterance of a young woman’s name, Mariana (Helena Ignez), the ward of a middle-aged man named Fortunato (Mário Lago), and immediately, the young priest is implicated in guarding the secrets of the insular town. But Mariana’s station proves to be even more ambiguous. As intriguingly enigmatic as she is frustratingly willful, her seductive beauty and libertine outlook has proved to be a powerful intoxication for the men in the village, including her own benefactor, who has begun to look towards his ward as if she were his wife, and now implores the young priest to consecrate their already consummated union (a marriage that had once been forbidden by the priest’s predecessor), and a suitor named Vitorino (Fauzi Arap) who watches his beloved from an unobstructed view of a nearby cottage. Drawn towards Mariana in the awkward silence of their mutual isolation and a profound sense of despair over his own surfacing emotions, the priest struggles with his desire to turn away from the harsh gaze of the claustrophobic village and consequently, his own flagging spiritual calling. Unfolding as a free verse adaptation of sorts on the themes inspired by the poetry of modernist writer, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, the aesthetically atypical The Priest and the Girl, nevertheless, provides a insightful framework into de Andrade’s recurring expositions on cultural ingraining, the affectation of landscape, and the elusive nature of desire.
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