La Symphonie pastorale (1946)

aka: Pastoral Symphony
Drama / Romance


La Symphonie pastorale photo
The young pastor of a mountain village adopts a small blind girl, Gertrude. As Gertrude grows up into an attractive young woman the pastor, now middle-aged, realises that he is in love with her. To his chagrin, his adopted son, Jean, is also in love with Gertrude, even though he is shortly to be married to another woman. Jean's fiancée is jealous of Gertrude and arranges for her to see a doctor in the hope that she might be cured and to enable Jean to choose equally between the two women. Miraculously, Gertrude's sight is restored and she returns to the village a changed woman. Unable to accept Jean's love and disappointed by the pastor's affections for her, she realises that her former happiness has been lost forever.
© 2012

Film Review

Film poster
Director Jean Delannoy's interpretation of André Gide's powerful and moving novel La Symphonie pastorale makes a memorable piece of cinema. The pastor is treated sympathetically, although the contradiction with his position of authority is not evaded. We share Gertrude's ambivalence when she recovers her sight and finds that her protector's love is somewhat more than paternalistic - neither pity or repulsion - although it is clear that both the pastor and Gertrude have lost something special. Delannoy paints a tragic scenario where individual happiness is destroyed by the constraints of convention and false expectations, and the film's conclusion is perhaps one of the most tragic and upsetting in cinema history.

The film is beautifully photographed, and one easily senses the isolation and remoteness of the small village community. The scene where a blind Gertrude is trying hopelessly to recover the shoe of a young boy has an air of classic tragedy. The most effective and moving scene, however, is when Gertrude emerges from the hospital, having recovered her sight, and sees snow for the first time. "So this is snow", she says quietly, enchanted.

And Michèle Morgan is indeed at her most enchanting in the role of Gertrude. It is probably her best screen performance, and one that won her the Best Actress award at the very first Cannes Film Festival in 1946. There is scarcely a scene in the film where she fails to trigger a deep emotional response. We share her unhappiness and vulnerability when she is blind and feeling useless. We delight when she walzes in the arms of the young man who has fallen in love with her. We are captivated by her joy when she recovers her sight. And we are moved to tears when, through no fault of her own, she loses her happiness at the end of the film. This is Michèle Morgan at her best. Few actors and actresses are able to win the empathy of a cinema audience so completely.

This is a great piece of French cinema from an experienced and highly respected director. Neither overly sentimental or theatrical, La symphonie pastorale is a tragic and moving story that is perfectly constructed in the medium of film.
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The director Jean Delannoy also worked with the actor Michèle Morgan on the films Aux yeux du souvenir (1948), La Minute de vérité (1952), Destinées (1954) and Obsession (1954).

Film Credits

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