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The Widow Of Saint-Pierre


The Widow Of Saint-Pierre

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Set mostly during the dead of winter on a desolate island outpost off the coast of Newfoundland, Patrice Leconte's The Widow Of Saint-Pierre would be a bleak tale even if it were about sledding. Based on a true story, the film presents a grim anti-death-penalty parable that makes Lars von Trier's Dancer In The Dark seem all the more muddled, even if Leconte's latest leaves its own share of unanswered questions and frustrating motivations. In 1850, a hulking drunk (played by Underground director Emir Kusturica) murders a man and is sentenced to death. While he awaits the slow shipment of a guillotine from Paris, he catches the interest of the compassionate wife (Juliette Binoche) of a French officer (Daniel Auteuil) stationed on Saint-Pierre. Binoche, who favors rehabilitation over capital punishment, puts Kusturica into service as the town's handyman. As the execution device slowly makes its way to the remote island, Kusturica's standing gradually shifts from condemned criminal to beloved hero, but the laws of the French Republic still call for his head. The Widow Of Saint-Pierre offers a bundle of contradictions: The film is sometimes breathlessly overheated, but at other times reserved and chilly. The camera work, by the esteemed Eduardo Serra, careens from overactive handheld work to austere shots of the frozen tundra, while the entire production at times recalls a low-budget historical reenactment as much as a detail-perfect period piece. Yet the emotional thrust of the storytelling ultimately proves too powerful to parry. Binoche, as usual, disappears into her role, her motivations clouded by sympathy, morality, and simple naiveté. Auteuil imbues his captain with pride and intelligence, while Kusturica is memorable in his first major screen role, as the film's Frankenstein monster and martyr-with-a-heart-of-gold. His kind face and honorable behavior make him an endearing character—forget the details of the brutal murder he committed, or the fact that he essentially lumbers through the movie as a slave awaiting his execution—which lends the film a terrible sense of doom as its conclusion approaches.