Or, stand by your man
The Widow of Saint Pierre Starring Juliette Binoche, Daniel Auteuil and Emir Kusturica. Directed by Patrice Leconte. Not rated, Pageant Theatre.Juliette Binoche is a romantic heroine poised on the ramparts in The Widow of Saint Pierre, but she never has to twirl her cape the way she did in the overrated Chocolat.
She is a fierce, glowing, complicated presence in the new film, and much of that is conveyed by the way she moves, or simply stands still, in the stark settings of Patrice Leconte’s surprisingly intense period piece/costume drama.
Binoche plays the wife of a military officer (the equally intense Daniel Auteuil) commanding an isolated military post in Quebec circa 1850.
When a burly sailor (Emir Kusturica) stabs a man to death during a drunken prank and is condemned to die for it, she begins to take a keen and not unfriendly interest in the convicted man’s plight. When the local government realizes the execution will have to wait for the arrival of a guillotine from France, things get even stickier.
The captain’s wife (referred to only as “Mme. La") invites the prisoner to work for her during the extended delay; he accepts and proceeds to endear himself to much of the community with generous acts of his own (stealing enough time to have a love affair with a neighboring widow). When the community gets riled about the wife’s conduct with the prisoner, the captain defends, in no uncertain terms, his wife’s freedom to make her own choices.
An offbeat meditation on crime and punishment is a key part of what emerges from all this, but The Widow of Saint Pierre is even more passionately immersed in a dramas of individual integrity (including that of the prisoner). And the relationship of the captain and his wife takes late but astonishing and convincing form as a celebration of romantic love of the oldest and most poetically traditional sort.