Monsieur Vincent (1947)

Monsieur Vincent (1947)

“I will be happy when I have done something.”

In 17th century France, priest Vincent de Paul (Pierre Fresnay) becomes increasingly committed to providing sustainable, widespread charity for all those in need across society.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Biopics
  • Do-Gooders
  • French Films
  • Historical Drama
  • Priests and Ministers

French filmmaker Maurice Cloche directed this beautifully shot (by DP Claude Renoir), Academy Award-winning biopic about St. Vincent de Paul, who may be familiar to non-Catholics for the chain of thrift stores named after him. Cloche’s moving film provides a rare portrait of a spiritual man who, over the course of the movie, grows deeper in his faith while positioning himself ever-closer to the people he’s serving:

The screenplay opens with Vincent arriving in a town (supposedly) riddled with plague:

… where he rescues an orphaned girl from the wrath of the masses. While we think the storyline will continue telling us about de Paul’s influence with the village, instead it shifts gears to show us how de Paul previously worked for the aristocracy:

… and is able to leverage their deep respect for him into sustained support for an ever-increasing swath of charitable organizations. Interestingly, de Paul’s most controversial move — i.e., the one which apparently pushed his donors and volunteers to the brink of their shared humanity — was caring for abandoned foundlings:

This is in diametrical opposition to the attitude held by most do-gooders today, with our strong belief that we must save all young lives — even unborn lives — at any cost. Perhaps most impressive about Cloche’s film is how authentically he shows us the manifestation of de Paul’s faith and humility in action: de Paul can’t not strive to make an even deeper impact on those most in need, ultimately at a cost to his own well-being. While little seems to have been written or discussed about Monsieur Vincent in recent years (and I’m unfamiliar more broadly with Cloche’s work), this film remains well worth a look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Pierre Fresnay as Vincent de Paul
  • Claude Renoir’s cinematography

  • Many memorably poignant moments

Must See?
Yes, as an underseen foreign classic. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.


  • Foreign Gem


One thought on “Monsieur Vincent (1947)

  1. First viewing. A once-must, for Fresnay’s performance and for its historical significance.

    It’s true that “little seems to have been written or discussed about ‘Monsieur Vincent’ in recent years”; I went looking for such info and came up quite short.

    While watching the film, it struck me that the viewer would benefit from a better knowledge of French history of the period – to know what was generally going on in France in the 1600s. For that reason, the overall background of the film feels incomplete. As well, it would perhaps add to the power of the film if we had a better sense (or saw more pointed examples) of what it was that inspired / drove Vincent.

    That said, viewers will respond to the view of poverty and the acts of charity in their own way – and will perhaps be tested accordingly. But even so, what’s presented in various scenes is likely to add to consciousness-raising. Along those lines, some scenes are particularly well-written.

    It’s not surprising that Alec Guinness referred to Fresnay as his favorite actor. There’s something Guinness-like about Fresnay’s work here.

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