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.
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,
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
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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