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In 1849, in the Archipelago of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, the drunken Ariel Neel Auguste and his partner Louis Ollivier kill for a futile motive (to see if he is fat or just big) the fishing boat captain Coupard. Nell, who stabbed the victim, is sentenced to die with his head severed in the guillotine while Louis is sentenced to hard labor. During the transportation to the prison under the custody of Captain Jean, there is an accident and Louis dies. While spending his days in the cell waiting for the guillotine and the executioner, Neel is invited by the captain's wife Mrs. Pauline to help her in her garden and becomes her protégé. Later he has a process of rehabilitation helping the locals in minor works and becomes very popular in the island. When he saves the building Café du Nord and her owner from sinking in the sea, his popularity increases and nobody but the governor and politicians of the council wants his death. Neel marries Eleontine Jeanne-Marie, but sooner he is informed ... Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The ship that brought the guillotine from Martinique was played by the Gazela Primiero, a Portuguese fishing vessel which now lives at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia. See more »
When Neel is told he's strong enough to "ramer jusqu'au chez les Anglais", the English subtitles say "row over to Canada" rather than "row over to the English". This introduces an error: both the geography and the dialogue in other scenes make it clear that Newfoundland is meant, but Newfoundland wasn't part of Canada until 1949. See more »
The actions of two men on a drunken spree turns out to be fatal for the man who is being harassed because he dies as a consequence of a fight with his two tormentors. Both men are apprehended and condemned to die as punishment for their actions. The way to die is beheading by guillotine, or "the widow" in the vernacular.
Thus begins this story that director Patrice Leconte directed, based on the screen play by Claude Faraldo. The story is set in the remote island of Saint Pierre, off the coast of Newfoundland. This is a hostile environment settled by the French. Saint Pierre boasts a lot of widows who have survived the rigors of the climate and the hard lives their husbands led.
Into this milieu we find a military captain and his wife. Both are Parisians and appear to be compassionate, at heart. When Neel, the surviving drunk is brought to be kept in a cell within the military quarters of the island, the wife, Madame La, takes an interest in the man. With her husband's consent, she asks for his help in tending a green house in the premises and other errands.
Neel and Madame La are at simple view, just opposites. The kindness Neel sees in her, transforms him. Madame La even goes to help him learn to read. All these actions don't sit well with the rest of the inhabitants and the people in the government who demand a guillotine is sent over and have him execute the prisoner.
The film works because the brilliant performance of Juliette Binoche, who as Madame La, makes her mark in the picture. Her compassion for Neel is genuine; in her heart she believes this man, a product of the environment in which he was born, shows qualities that no one has seen in him.
Emir Kusturica, a noted film director himself, is also one of the assets of the movie. Mr. Kusturica is a large man with unkempt looks, who is totally believable as Neel. His interaction with Madame La turns from gratitude into a noble love that is not meant to be.
The other principal is Daniel Auteuil who is perfect as the captain, the husband of Madame La, who is outraged by what he perceives to be the wrong punishment for the accused Neel. In spite of the menacing presence of Neel next to his wife, he trusts her as he knows her kind heart belongs to him only.
"La veuve de Saint Pierre" is a great movie that will satisfy viewers in search of a different story. Patrice Leconte has directed with panache as he takes us to see the beauty of Saint Pierre, something that is so bleak, yet it's a place that has a magnetic attraction as we watch the film unfold.
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