Pierre Fresnay did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Saint Vincent de Paul in Monsieur Vincent.
This is a rather different part than the other two performances I've seen from Pierre Fresnay such as Grand Illusion where he played an aristocratic soldier with a particularly strong connection with his captor, and The Murderer Lives At Number 21 where he played a somewhat carefree detective. Fresnay seems almost unrecognizable in this role compared to those earlier performances. I write almost though because there is the idea of the charisma he revealed in those earlier performances, but utilized in a different way. The film opens with Vincent coming into a village where some are being quarantined off and basically ignored by the rest of the populace. Vincent comes onto the scene almost like a shrewd hero though still to only administer proper priestly duties such as healing and prayer. Fresnay again has that charisma of his other performances but he alters it properly given the man Vincent is suppose to be. In that Fresnay is charming as usual, but in a most unusual way. Fresnay underplays it so elegantly in that he comes across just as well as those earlier performances, yet somehow still maintains the modesty essential to such a role.
Fresnay's work is rather fascinating here in that it is a brilliant example of an actor both internalizing and externalizing in their performance. In that Fresnay's work is often reactionary here, and so powerfully so are his reactions. In the early scene where he tries to save the people from the plague his eyes are so piercing as he watches the people shirking their duties as human beings. What is so incredible though is it is not disdain that Fresnay realizes rather he conveys more disappointment towards those not taking up the duties as they should. Fresnay is careful as this certain condemnation of their actions never feels sanctimonious, though of course Vincent is always very much in the right, but nevertheless Fresnay captures the purity of this intention. Fresnay never seems above it all though and with that is so remarkable. Fresnay is able illustrate so much more about Vincent in such slight reactions. Fresnay never simplifies though with this as even as there is a moment where he must glance into someone's souls, he is just as able to speak with another person just as one human being to another.
Fresnay actually brings a certain humor in Vincent in so many moments, but always in such a generous loving way. Fresnay grants these moments as though Vincent wishes to attempt to share any joy he may have with those around. Of course what Vincent specializes in is finding suffering and attempting to try to alleviate it in some way. After Vincent helps as he can with the contagion, Vincent receives praise and thanks while he only really reacts by informing the villagers that he prayed for their sake as well because of their selfishness, though not in so many words. Fresnay doesn't mock in his delivery nor does he make too ethereal. He makes it a grounded yet earnest declaration alluding the man who wishes for others to be the best individual they are able to be, yet is well aware that may be unlikely with those he speaks to. Throughout the film we witness Vincent as he goes through the years helping one person after, noble, poor, slave whoever needs while not asking for thanks in fact purposefully avoiding it.
Again with this it seems like we should expect an angel among men, and in terms of his accomplishments he kind of is. Fresnay though does not allow himself to be pigeonholed as such in this brilliant work of his. Again this is in terms of how he externalizes and internalizes all that Vincent is as a person which extends beyond his good works, even if that's mainly what the film focuses upon. Fresnay's work feels just as reality since he refuses to be merely an idea of Saint, he instead intends to reveal the man in the Saint, even if that man is quite saintly. Fresnay's work is far greater than the film itself because of this approach. I love the way Fresnay makes the passions in Vincent so very real and palatable. In any scene where he is helping others Fresnay presents such genuine concern in every moment as helps, and the moving quiet joy he expresses when helping those who truly need it. Furthermore though Fresnay also echoes the world Vincent does live in, which is ripe with corruption and contemptible individuals, by providing the right sense of dissatisfaction with those people. Fresnay though is terrific in that he is incredibly incisive in just a glance or a calm remark, such when he is offered a scent candle to avoid the scent of suffering slaves on ship, as he alludes to that disappointment without becoming defined by it. Now that is what I even mean by his humanizing of Vincent though. What is so outstanding about this work is how deeply unpretentious it is despite playing a figure worthy of such pretenses.
Fresnay though gives that humor even almost alluding to his flawless delivery of his various bard from Number 21 in a few scenes where Vincent avoids any direct praise from an old acquaintance. Fresnay always brings these little moments, and they don't even have to be comedic. Even in the grand chambers where Vincent tries to encourage the best out of the "elite" emphasizes an understanding and embracing warmth by his unaffected portrayal of Vincent. Now I did not even mention that this is a story set over decades as we see Vincent age to an old man. Fresnay excels in just another facet of his work as he so gradually ages the man with his performances taking on certain mannerisms fitting to an older man, a squint, a hunch, yet doing it in such a natural way that there is no disconnect from Vincent of one year to the next. The film again is one great deed after another, which Fresnay elevates greatly by his nuanced work, and the film ends actually on Vincent only sort of criticizing himself for still not doing enough to help others. This could be terribly self-indulgent, but it is not at all. Fresnay makes it such a beautiful moment as again it is expressed with only a humble grace. Fresnay's whole performance is an amazing piece of acting as he allows a saint to be man even if he is a flawless one.