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:: La Veuve De Saint Pierre

Patrice Leconte’s film is a beautifully shot story of cruel bureaucracy that can appear emotional and harrowing. He displays an ability to fill the viewer with visual innuendo and it says much through gestures. We had already seen his fine black and white love story, “The Girl On The Bridge”. This is a period tragedy that contains three terrific performances at its centre.
“La Veuve De Saint-Pierre” takes place in 1850, on the remote island of Saint-Pierre, off the coast of Canada. Emir Kusturica, himself a director of Serbian descent, plays Auguste Neel, a burly fisherman who is sentenced to death for the accidental murder of his Captain during a drunken prank. Saint-Pierre is a place where there has never been an execution before, so Neel is placed in the hands of the Captain of the Guard (Daniel Auteuil) until a guillotine arrives and an executioner is found. Once imprisoned, Neel attracts the attention of the Captain’s caring, good-hearted wife, Madame La (Juliette Binoche). She helps with his rehabilitation in doing chores and learning how to read. Indeed, Neel is transformed into someone completely different from when initially jailed. Can the island’s governors still go ahead and kill Neel? He is now loved by all on the island with the exception of the rigid establishment that want to see his head roll. One of the key aspects is the relationship between the three major participants of the drama. Leconte succeeds in deftly treating the likelihood of a love triangle. What emerges is a moving profile of a man (Auteuil) so in love with his wife, that he is willing to risk all for what they both believe is right.
These performances are exceptional. Emir Kusturica gives a powerful performance. It is also the first time pairing of Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil, two of France’s best actors, and they give the film extra depth and beauty. Binoche is a majestic actress of high quality, while Auteuil shows his redoubtable acting qualities again. He lets conscience overrule consensus and, as a result, is treated with suspicion by the authorities. Binoche represents a freethinking, spirited person as Madame La. Her relationship with her husband is fired by loyalty and sexual attraction. Leconte depicts their story intensely yet we observe what lies in their conscience as the film nears its tragic climax. The performances and direction add up to an enjoyable film freed from usual staid period pictures. Director Leconte does a splendid job with the film’s striking imagery and general look, and makes the film highly recommended.