The Parrish Priest’s Christmas (1906)
Alternate Title: Le Noël de Monsieur le curé
This fluffy little Christmas story from Alice Guy probably exemplifies why some speak of early Gaumont as “moralist” (although the later Fantômas series argues against this!). It speaks of a simple faith that overcomes poverty and hardship.
We see a Priest at home; on his wall a calendar tells us it is Dec. 23. He opens a book and an insert shot lets us see that he is reading about Christmas and the Nativity. He is suddenly overcome with an inspiration and summons his housekeeper. He reminds her of the coming holiday, and they go through his current budget to see if there is money for a special display. His purse has only a few small coins, so he resolves to go out into the community and raise funds. His first stop is the home of some simple peasants. They turn out their pockets as well; they have no money, either. But, they are eager to contribute something and the wife gets a basket full of eggs. The Priest happily agrees, but then can’t figure out a way to carry the basket safely, in addition to his hat and cane, so the woman comes along with him. Now they stop at the shop of a wealthy merchant, and he and the Priest talk for a while. The merchant wants to sell the Priest a large statue of an infant, but the Priest asks if he has anything smaller. Looking disappointed, the merchant finds a smaller infant doll. The Priest gets out his meager coins and the merchant looks dubious. The Priest calls in the woman and she offers the basket of eggs. Now the merchant is dismissive – he won’t accept barter and he’s not interested in giving charity to the church. The Priest and the peasant woman leave. The next scene shows them setting up the nave of the church. They have put out a cradle in front of the statue of the Madonna and put straw in it to represent the manger, but there is no baby Jesus, the congregation will have to use their imaginations for that. When the Mass is performed, suddenly two angels appear on the altar, and one places a baby into the cradle. All of the congregation and the Priest show their thanks for this miracle.
Unlike the many American Christmas movies I reviewed last year, this is a thoroughly religious Christmas movie, tied to a specific faith and its rituals. This probably limited its appeal for foreign distribution, although it is a well-made and touching story. The moral of the story – that the poor people are willing to donate even though they have little to offer while the rich merchant is too stingy – would work well enough in American progressivist pictures, but many Protestants would object to the idolatry and symbolism of the end. Almost certainly, it would be rejected in the Baptist south. From a French point of view, however, it probably works, and this seems to confirm the surprising trend away from English translations in these movies at this time. Guy continues to improve her technique, as the use of the insert shot, the measured acting, and the careful pacing of this thoughtful movie all show. There are no Intertitles (at least, none that have survived in the print I saw), but the story is told in a way that allows the viewer to sort things out with minimal work. You don’t necessarily know at first what the Priest wants money for, but it works itself out logically by the time he’s at the merchant’s shop. This movie seems to be a good representative of the style Guy established as she became more confident and less imitative.
Director: Alice Guy
Camera: Unknown, possibly Alice Guy or Anatole Thiberville
Run Time: 5 Min, 30 secs
You can watch it for free: here.