The mystery surrounding the captain and his wife-why are they here?-remains the very thing that allows us to sink into this strange place at the moment of their trouble.

THE WIDOW OF SAINT-PIERRE

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


Something wonderful happens in The Widow of Saint-Pierre. A good movie by normal standards, it becomes absorbing by conveying an extraordinary sense of place. Of all the places in this world, the French-controlled island village of Saint-Pierre, off Newfoundland, becomes not just the setting, but the dominant texture and feel of a way of life for all who live there. As if scanning the globe for this story, the camera slowly zooms in on this island and tells us a great deal by the time we are at eye level with the village.

It is 1849, and these people are living in a very small world. Surrounded by abundant beauty, they cannot use the outdoors casually. The wind, the waves, and the unrelenting cold keep them indoors, where they gather to pass the time in a huge common room that holds their secrets and serves as the stage for the politics of men. Fishing these hostile waters means surviving the elements as much as it does bringing in the catch. Life here is harsh and stark: a vast sea, a long empty curl of sand, a cluster of buildings that contain these lives.

On a fateful night, two drunken men, Neel (Emir Kusturica, inspired director of Black Cat, White Cat) and Louis (Reynald Bouchard), follow a ship's captain home to settle their argument about whether he is fat or just big. For the brutal stabbing that follows, Neel is sentenced to die by the guillotine. Since the remote island has neither guillotine nor executioner, the residents have a long, long time to ponder the issues involved. The guillotine, the "widow" of the title, has been ordered from Martinique.

Jean (Daniel Auteuil), captain of the French military detachment, is an elegant equestrian who unconditionally adores his wife (Juliette Binoche) and accepts her wish to rehabilitate Neel by restoring his dignity. With the encouragement of the captain's wife, who is a passionate idealist, Neel becomes a hero to the islanders, while the politicians look increasingly silly as they wait for a French ship to deliver its deadly cargo. As the story unfolds, the islanders, and we in the audience, must deal with the killing of a man who did his awful deed while drunk but is now loved by the people around him: "They are not punishing the man they sentenced."

The issues of boredom, greed, and punishment are the same as in our world, but the island of Saint-Pierre, where time is nearly without definition, and life without distraction, demands that we think. The mystery surrounding the captain and his wife-why are they here?-remains the very thing that allows us to sink into this strange place at the moment of their trouble. They are caught in the rules of society in a place where the glare of the light gives neither people nor issues a place to hide. Saint-Pierre itself is the strength of this film.


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 491
Studio : Lions Gate Films
Rating : R
Running time : 1h52m


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