By Nicole Kobie
During the red carpet Oscar preview show, a movie critic noticed that Juliette Binoche always manages to perform in good movies. It’s hard to argue with such acclaimed films as Chocolat and The English Patient.
Well, she’s done it again.
In The Widow of Saint Pierre, Binoche plays the eccentric and modern Madame La. She is stuck living at a prison in a tiny cod-fishing village because of her husband’s job as the Captain of the local police force. Her free-thinking mind and open adoration for her husband Jean makes her an anomaly among the dull-witted, close-minded people of small town France, circa 1850.
Her mentality disrupts the town after a murderer is sentenced to be executed by guillotine. Madame La takes the convict under her care, and a transformation is seen in his behaviour, in her own and in that of the entire town.
What stands out the most in this film is the camera work and staging. Like a painting, the rich colours and captivating scenes are nothing less than art. Shots of winter’s wind-swept snow contrast with the spring’s fresh growth. Imagine a French captain, in full uniform, racing a black horse over deep green fields with a stormy sea as a backdrop. Picture a solid stone prison set against a pale, cloudy sky. Such scenes are aided by the lush costumes of 19th century France. This movie is so visually beautiful that it could be watched on mute and still enjoyed.
However, to do that would be to miss a superb story. The Widow of Saint Pierre, both a comedy of manners and a historical drama, shows these sides in the plot and the dialogue.
The plot is superb–the question of which woman will become the widow constantly nags at the back of the mind. Will it be Madame La, the killer’s wife, or the executioner’s wife? The story of change and the cost of one’s beliefs will not be soon forgotten.
The dialogue is fluid and cunning. Exchanges between Madame La, the Captain and his superiors are strung with tension, ominous foreshadowing and humour.
Once again, Binoche deserves acclaim. As always, her screen presence is phenomenal. Binoche’s Madame La is both sensitive and stubborn, worldy and naïve. Her husband Jean is as strong-willed, and dreadfully in love with her.
Wonderful camerawork, a fantastic story, captivating dialouges and characters all in one film can mean only one thing: this movie is a perfect example of filmwriting. Screenwriter Claude Faraldo has created a work of art, rare in the industry lately. What it means for audiences is two hours of beautiful, enjoyable film.