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The Widow of Saint-Pierre

The Widow of Saint-Pierre

Often a joy to watch from Eduardo Serra's wondrous picturesque shots, The Widow of Saint-Pierre is somewhat inert though as the beautiful still photography from an absorbing melodramatic story appears devoid of the dramatic tension intended by talented director Patrice Leconte.  The director of the popular Girl on the Bridge has plenty of atmosphere from the foggy island off the coast of New Foundland.   Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil are on the tiny island under French rule in 1850.  Leconte gets some emotional fire in varying degrees as the pair, cast as a captain of a jail and his wife, known mostly as the Captain and Madame La, try to bring shaded roles with some depth to the artistry displayed by the director who likes to surprise himself.

Perhaps, the most charismatic part is played by a praised director, Emir Kusturica, as his debut in the role of the illiterate fisherman Neel Auguste, who is convicted of killing his boss during a drunken betting exchange to see if he was fat or just big.  Neel's crime under French law is death by guillotine and the title refers to that sharp, rusty murdering device.  Leconte's straightforward approach makes clear that Neel is a meek individual who had a bad day, but really is a good hearted large framed fellow.

Much of Widow has the condemned Neel in the Captain's custody.  While waiting for a guillotine to be transported to the rugged, windy island, Madame La has him servicing neighbors with the Captain looking bemused.  Eventually before the chopping device reaches the island, Neel has become a celebrity.

Later, the Captain and Madame La, who finally address each other as Jean and Pauline, have their decency and independent thinking come to pass with the contemptible community leaders who even impel a new immigrant to be the executioner when no volunteers come forth.  So, The Window of Saint-Pierre plays out as an idiosyncratic triangle with Pauline and Neel developing a quiet emotional bond.  He learns to read from her and eventually weds in the face of doom as Jean finally can't stop the arrival of the "Widow."

But with a seemingly taut storyline aided by the insular community the visual beauties like scenes on horseback or at a craggy cove, there isn't quite the emotional core accessible for a needed payoff like what was handled with aplomb in the black and white montages in Girl on the Bridge.  And though Binoche and Auteuil have moments of erotic passion as their marriage often feels like lovers in an affair, they aren't as riveting a couple as Auteuil and Girl co-star Vanessa Paradis.  Auteuil's Captain is most impressive when riding his steed and the Chocolat Best Actress nominee is most touching when with the nearly mute hunchback and alone as Madame La.

If there are stirring qualities absent from a slick veneer of the production with much palpability brisling in the soundtrack, it's Kusturica who strangely has a soulful, refrained integrity which actually produces a subtle aura of humanity in a film that often guillotines Leconte's evocative spirit and passion for affection throughout dashing sequences which usually enthralls the mind and stimulates the senses.

 
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The Widow of Saint-Pierre
 
 
 
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