Prejudice, perfidy, love, and bravery in Québec. In 1779, a priest on his deathbed receives a young woman. Flash back 20 years: Marie-Loup, an herb-dispensing peasant, falls for François, a man of property. The priest's perfidy and the treachery of a soldier separate the lovers and set in motion a chain of events leading to a death, a trial, and an execution. The action unfolds against a backdrop of England's take-over of French-Canada, the Church's manipulations to maintain spiritual hegemony, and the limited rights of woman and indigenous peoples. Watching it all is Marie-Loup's daughter, named France, who, when grown, is the dying priest's visitor in prelude and coda.Written by
"Battle of the Brave" is a 2004 Canadian film originally titled "New France" since the story mainly takes place in Quebec during the closing years of France's control of the province and the French and Indian War circa 1759-63.
As other reviewers have pointed out, "Battle of the Brave" is not the most accurate title since it gives the impression that the film will focus on General James Wolfe victory over General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham outside Quebec City in late 1759. While this battle figures in as a brief backdrop it's not the focus. The focal point is a young peasant single mother, Marie-Loup, and her mutual passion for an aristocratic trapper, Francois. Francois seeks justice for the people of New France from the greedy and disloyal French overlords, but is ultimately forced to flee to France. A well-intentioned lie prevents Francois from taking Marie-Loup and her daughter with him, and this leads to tragedy.
As you can see, "Battle of the Brave" is more of a love story with a historical backdrop a la "Titanic" than a big battle picture like "Braveheart." As such, it may appeal more to women than men intent on seeing an action-oriented historical picture. Which isn't to say the movie's all romance; there's drama, comedy, history and flashes of action.
Actually, the title "Battle of the Brave" isn't all that inaccurate; it's just that the "battle" is on a much smaller scale than "Braveheart." The battle of the brave here is in the hearts of the main characters as they make hard and sacrificial choices during a time of great political upheaval. Unfortunately the DVD cover doesn't denote this; it suggests a big battle flick with huge armies along with the statement, "RISE. UNITE. FIGHT.", which is totally misleading. Why falsely market the product? Don't producers know bait-and-switch tactics will ultimately turn people off to the film?
I admit that the first time I saw "Battle of the Brave" I was somewhat disappointed because I was expecting something more along the lines of "Last of the Mohicans" (1992). Viewing it again recently, I was fully prepared for its uniqueness and even utilized the subtitles so I could keep track of the characters and not miss any of the accented dialogue, which I recommend. As a result, I quite enjoyed the movie. I was able to follow what was going on and successfully entered the world of the characters for the next couple hours (the film runs 143 minutes). Besides, who wants another "Last of the Mohicans"? We already have that. "Battle of the Brave" is totally unique and completely non-"blockbuster."
The film has high production values (it was the most expensive film ever made in Quebec) but it has a peculiar vibe that the viewer has to get used to; the tone is more akin to a TV movie (with a huge budget) than "Last of the Mohicans" or "Rob Roy," but I don't necessarily mean this in a negative sense.
With the exception of Gerard Depardieu, who plays Father Thomas, the main characters are relatively obscure French actors, but they all rise to the occasion. David La Haye as Francois is a likable and believable male protagonist. The actresses who play Marie-Loup, her daughter France, and their family friend Acoona are likewise great. I particularly appreciate Bianca Gervais as the part-native Acoona. Speaking of which, I like the respectable way the film figures in the Innu people, albeit small.
One reviewer lambasted the film as "seethingly anti-Catholic," but the ending totally refutes this absurd claim. Did he even finish the film? Actually the picture is brutally honest with its depiction of people, governments and institutions – all can be corrupted and corruption comes down to the individual. Just the same, honor and integrity are rooted in the individual before anything else. Governments and all institutions are only as good or bad as the individuals from which they're comprised. Thankfully, there's a remedy to corruption: humble repentance. Confession stops prosecution and humility attracts grace, which leads to positive change, even if it's upon one's deathbed.
The ending scene is powerful in a subtle way. No matter the tragedy, beauty and positivity can arise from the ashes.
Speaking of the ending, the credits sequence features the excellent song "Ma Nouvelle France" by Celine Dion, sung in French.
But the story leaves a few questions ***SPOILER ALERT***: Why did Father Thomas lie to Marie-Loup about Francois' letter? Was he simply concerned about her safety in a time of political unrest or did he love her so much he selfishly couldn't bear to have her removed from his life and influence? Why does France call Francois "Father" (capitalized) at the very end? Why didn't Marie-Loup simply tell the truth at the trial? After all, what legitimate court would convict an 11 year-old girl who was simply defending herself from a drunken rapist (unless, of course, the court was heavily biased toward Xavier)? ***END SPOILER***
The film was shot mainly in beautiful Quebec and Eastern Canada, which makes the film realistic. (Wouldn't it have been absurd to shoot it in, say, British Columbia, as was the case with "Pathfinder"?). (Speaking of which, "Pathfinder" is well worth checking out; it's a great 'guy flick'; the antithesis of "Battle of the Brave").
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