Widow of Saint-Pierre (SE)/B+,C
Trimark/2000/108/ANA 1.77 PS

     An unrelenting fatalism is woven into the fabric of The Widow of Saint-Pierre. Filmed mostly in cold blue hues by French director Patrice Leconte, almost everything around the sunny and beautiful Madame La casts a pall attempts to smother her. But her goodness is powerful enough to overcome the forces of her environment. She is the wife of the French garrison captain stationed on the small island in the cold waters of the new world off Canada. It is a period of upheaval in early eighteenth century France. The empire is unstable and sensitive to issues of loyalty. Two fishermen commit a heinous, senseless murder, and one is sentenced to execution at the guillotine. The problem is that there is no guillotine (nicknamed "the widow") and no executioner on Saint-Pierre. Neel Auguste is detained in the prison under Le Captaine's command and must await a sharp and sudden fate. Madame La, Le Captaine and Auguste form a strange triangle of involvement as the fateful events play themselves out to the only conclusion possible.

A understanding triangle. ŠTrimark

     There are powers greater than logic driving this film. The human heart can be overpowering. Le Captaine is madly in love with his Madame La. He is willing to put aside almost any consideration in deference to that love. Yet, and this is one of the great strengths of the script, Le Captaine never debases himself, nor do any of the other characters controlled by emotions that overpower intellect. His love is returned by Madame La. Their relationship is fed by a mutual respect. 
    Leconte lets the story play at an even pace. Perhaps there's a shot too many of an approaching ship in an attempt to heighten tension, but Leconte clearly loves this story. The actors respond to Leconte's guidance. Leconte is his own camera operator and there are unions between the camera and the actors that are unusually intimate. 
     Daniel Auteuil has made himself the indispensable cinema symbol of the typical  modern Gallic man. Auteuil's brooding presence captures the essence of Le Captaine to perfection. His tight lipped smile of love, a slight glint of passion in his eye, the stiff rigidly of his carriage detail aspects of Le Captaine with remarkable acuity. Juliette Binoche invests Madame La with  diamond brilliance. This is the fascinating Binoche that makes audiences tremble by her screen presence, a natural beauty that sparks from inside and builds to a flaming excitement at every curve of her body, every shadow on her face. Auteuil and Binoche explode with passion in their love scenes, but they are equally wonderful in the quiet passages that define their special relationship. Emir Kustuica, the Serbian director, turns actor with a powerfully simple and beautiful performance as Neel Auguste. It's a magnificent casting stroke by intuitive director Leconte. 

      It's really a shame that the perfection of Leconte's widescreen compositions should be compromised by cropping or pan and scan, but such is the case here. They have made the DVD anamorphic, but 1.77 instead of 2.35. How can the studios involved be foolish enough to taint this DVD release by such a senseless decision? Would that were the only problem with the transfer. There are far too many soft scenes. The cold compositions called for precise rendering of detail and it's a let down. Colors are fine and probably less saturated because of artistic choice. Black levels and shadow detail are adequate. The Dolby Digital 5:1 aggressively captures the lapping of water against the prows of ships and catches the icy island wind effectively. Removable yellow English subtitles are easy to read and do not disturb the flow of the film. There's a 2-channel English dubbed track for those foolish enough to eschew sub-titles.
    The DVD presents special edition material that is unusually honest. Filmed interviews with the the principal actors and the director as well as on the set footage reveal the inner thoughts and intelligence that makes The Widow of Saint-Pierre an unusual experience. 




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