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VEUVE DE SAINT PIERRE, LA

SYNOPSIS:
In 1850, on the small French-Canadian island of Saint-Pierre, Neel Auguste (Emir Kusturica) is found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by guillotine. But there is neither a guillotine nor an executioner on the island. While waiting for a guillotine to arrive from France, Neel is placed in the custody of the Captain of the garrison (Daniel Auteuil). The Captain’s wife, commonly known as Madame La (Juliette Binoche), is determined that the condemned man will be treated with dignity whilst he awaits his terrible fate. Slowly the opinion of the local community begins to change towards the condemned man. And the Captain is left in the unenviable position of having responsibility for a murderer that the woman he loves believes should be free.

"If, like me, you’re a Leconte fan, you will not be disappointed in this tragic, gripping film, full of his trademark techniques that create excellent cinema. The close ups, not only on the faces of his characters, but on objects that fill out our insight and understanding of his story. There is never any question, of course, about the performances he elicits from his cast, in this case the ever-reliable Daniel Auteuil and the ever sensitive Juliette Binoche. And the rest, including an underplaying Emir Kusturica, a filmmaker in his own right. The stunning production design helps Laconte create such a powerful sense of place and time (a French colonial island off Canada in the mid 1800s) that we not only see it all, but feel the rigours of the culture and its insular civil authorities. Auteuil’s noble Le Capitaine is a central anchor in the film'’ narrative -–based on a true story – but it is not really about him at all. The story is about the relationship that his wife strikes with the convicted killer, Neel. The humanity of the story is Laconte’s concern, the tragedy of mankind’s innate pride. It is pride, in the final analysis, that leads to the tragic conclusion, pride wedded to ignorance and a lack of compassion. Yet the film’s moral point is never unduly hammered, allowing the audience to extract what it will – each of us individually – from the expansive images and the tangible characters. And as Francophiles will recognise, the title in English is misleading: here, the French are referring to not a widow, but a guillotine."
Andrew L. Urban

"Moody and cinematic, La Veuve de Saint Pierre is an intelligent drama about honour, redemption and courage. Visually splendid, and best enjoyed on the big screen, Patrice Leconte captures the same density of emotions elicited in his brilliant Ridicule, whereby the intense nature of the subject matter is described. A human story of compassion with a twist, it's a haunting tale that canvasses the big issues of life, death and love. Leconte beautifully creates a solid sense of place and time – we are there in this isolated community and are privileged to meet some extraordinary people. Central to the story are Madame La (Juliette Binoche, superb) and her husband Le Capitaine (Daniel Auteuil, astounding), while director Emir Kurstica changes sides in a memorable acting debut. Madame La revels in nurturing lost causes – from her plants to the condemned prisoner, who subsequently becomes a changed man. Radiating passion and intense sexual energy, Binoche and Auteuil together are electric: theirs is a very complete love affair and one you will always remember. Leconte highlights human treachery by displaying human behaviour in hypocritical and unexpected ways. In a scene where the Governor is having a picnic on the cliff-top with his family, he nonchalantly reveals how he intends to punish Le Capitaine for his unorthodox ways. Poetic and haunting, La Veuve de St Pierre is a thought provoking film, whose beauty is reflected in its sense of humanity."
Louise Keller

"While Patrice Leconte's last effort, La Fille sur le Pont garnered some excellent reviews, it was finally let down by a wayward plot and a difficulty in engaging the audience. How different is this effort? Teaming once again with the brilliant Daniel Auteuil, and for the first time with the stunning Juliette Binoche, Leconte has produced a most heart wrenching and beautiful work. Binoche has it all as an actress. None of the histrionics that we so
often acquaint with her American counterparts here, Binoche is the epitome of subtlety. She says it all with a look, a gesture, a slightly altered tone. Auteuil too is at his best, matching Binoche in every aspect of his performance. Engaging too is Bosnian director Emir Kusturica (Black Cat White Cat, Underground) as the reformed Neel. But the performances have only risen to the beautifully paced and observed script of Clause Farraldo. Based on a true story, the screenplay is magnetic in its ability to draw the audience into its web. Leconte's economy of storytelling is superbly supported by the evocative photography of Eduardo Serra. La Veuve de Saint-Pierre is a feast of the most incredible images. Horses, water, snow, flowers, and pointedly framed performers. Somewhat reminiscent of The Piano in its feel, inevitability, and its tragedy, La Veuve De Saint-Pierre is Leconte's best work to date. A stunning film. You'd be crazy to miss it."
Lee Gough

"From the opening scene we sense that this is a film about fatalism. It is not the story itself that matters, but the observation of its evolution. There is beauty and insight in every detail. Even the title is a play on words: La Veuve ("The Widow") being both a bereaved wife and a term for the guillotine. But more powerful than puns is the stunning photography of coastline and snowfields superimposed with three peerless performances. We should expect nothing less from Binoche and Auteuil, but multi-award winning director, Kusturica, makes his thespian debut with an effort that led Auteuil to proclaim that "he was born to act". There are many films about people falling in and out of love, yet Auteuil and Binoche’s synergy as a couple, already besotted when we meet them, is almost unique in its intensity. Fascinatingly, their most touching moments are their tacit exchanges. It is fine and subtle acting. Indeed, subtlety is the film’s great feature. Themes of rehabilitation, exculpation and forgiveness risk sanctimony without it. But that is never the case here. Although the true events on which the story is based occurred in the 1920s, the action has been receded some seventy years to provide a greater sense of distance. With mores and politics irrelevant to our own, the timelessness, the universality of the film’s human core is magnified. But if there is one flaw, it lies in the untold story – the story of the victim. Although the brutality of Neel’s crime is not glossed over, we never know the victim or his family. To parallel this other story against Neel’s redemption could actually have enhanced, not undermined, the motif of rehabilitation. Still, as it stands, this is an exquisite piece of cinema; and its richness lies as much in its texture as in its message."
Brad Green

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 4
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

JULIETTE BINOCHE talks about her role.

VEUVE DE SAINT PIERRE, LA (M)
(Can/FR)

CAST: Juliette Binoche, Daniel Auteuil, Emir Kusturica, Michel Duchaussoy, Philippe Magnan, Christian Charmetant, Philippe Du Janerand

DIRECTOR: Patrice Leconte

PRODUCERS: Frédéric Brillion, Gilles Legran

SCRIPT: Claude Faraldo

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Eduardo Serra

EDITOR: Joëlle Hache

MUSIC: Pascal Estève

ART DIRECTION: Yvan Maussion

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 12, 2000 in Sydney; October 19, 2000 in Melbourne







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