From acclaimed director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Tender Mercies) and adapted by screenwriter Brian Moore from his novel of the same name, Black Robe is "amazing an adventure film that is as intelligent as it is... more » enthralling" (US)! French Jesuit missionary Father Laforgue travels to the magnificently austere Canadian wilderness to save the souls of a "savage and godless" peoplethe native tribes of the Huron and Algonquin. But the natives, who have their own spiritual value system that differs drastically from Christianity, are immediately suspicious, resentful and openly hostile toward the intrusive "Black Robe." And when Laforgue hires a reluctant group of Algonquin to escort him on a harrowing 1500-mile journey up the broad and sinuous St. Lawrence River, a devastating chain of events not only causes him to question his deeply held beliefs but also forever changes the course of history for the natives' way of life.« less
Frank Gibbons | Seekonk, MA United States | 08/12/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a very moving film about the clash of two radically different cultures. The young Jesuit priest, Father LaForgue, although very rigid in his belief system, sincerely wants to help the Native Americans by bringing them the Truth. But his message of paradise has no meaning for the Alogonquins, Hurons, and other tribes that he comes into contact with. They cannot understand why he has no woman. They fear him as a demon because he reads from books and makes strange signs (of the cross). He, in turn, believes they are living in darkness and must be saved. He is fearful of the vast forests where the devil reigns. There is a great deal of complexity in the character of Chomina, the Algonquin leader who fears the Black Robe but who feels honor bound to assist him. Father LaForgue is a tragic figure, so lonely and confused in the vast expanses of 'New France'. Why is he here, so far from his mother's comfortable drawing rooms? What does he hope to accomplish? The film is beautifully shot on location. A warning to the faint-hearted: there are some gruesome scenes in the film. Black Robe is a moving, balanced film with a profound spirituality."
This is the one that should have won "best picture"
Frank Gibbons | 03/28/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"An outstanding look at what happens when cultures collide. "Black Robe" tells the story of a 17th century French Jesuit missionary sent to the Canadian wilds to proselytize among the Huron Indians. Unfolding artfully and slowly, the film explores both the questionning of and committment to his faith encountered by the priest as he gets to know his Indian guides, their culture, and their spiritual beliefs. In the film, the priest's character is juxtaposed to his young apprentice who falls in love with the daughter of their Algonquin guide and comes to a deep understanding and appreciation of their culture. Far from romanticizing and idealizing it's Native American characters, however, "Black Robe" presents them fully as rich, varied, multi-faceted individuals capable of pettiness, wisdom, loyalty, kindness, atrocity, humor, close-mindedness, and love. Likewise, the priest retains his committment to Roman Catholicism and his confusion over Native American spiritual beliefs, while coming to a profound love and respect for the individuals and the tribes he has come to serve. It is a truly remarkable film, magnificently photographed, with rich, memorable characters. It speaks clearly about the conflicting values and world views held by these two cultures without denegrating or idealizing either one. There is violence and sexual situations -- similar to what you might expect in "Braveheart." A great film!"
Gives a feeling of 'this is how it really was'
Mark Snegg | Boone, NC USA | 09/24/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There are remarkably few historical movies which give you the feeling of actually being in another time and place. In almost all costume dramas, however accurate the costumes and sets may be, the characters think, speak and act like people of the present day. The issues are modern issues, and the movies are colored by modern political correctness, and by romanticized and simplified views of the past.
Black Robe is a movie that makes you feel "this is how things really were." It shows both Native Americans and European settlers honestly in all their humanity and complexity. But the issues are 17th century issues, not 21st century issues. The movie is not self-concious, or preachy, or pushing a particular agenda. It's just telling a good story, and telling it very well.
This is perhaps the best and most accurate portrayal of Native Americans in any movie ever. They are shown neither as noble, politically correct, ecologically sound, wise heroes, nor as racist caricatures. They are shown as real people, and as individuals with their own personal concerns and opinions. There is no glossing over harsh living conditions, violence, brutality, torture, and superstition. But honor, loyalty, love, and closeness to nature are just as vividly present - as are doubt, deception, self-interest, and cruelty.
The French are likewise shown in a real, accurate and believable way. The narrow-mindedness of the Jesuits and their perverse desire for martyrdom are shown along with their deep sincerity and courage. Colonial attitudes and the overwhelming role of religion in 17th century culture are there, but the characters are never caricatures. Neither European nor Native American religions are denigrated, but both are shown to have their flaws as well as their values.
The role of solemn ceremony in both cultures is vividly shown in some of the opening scenes - an aspect of life which has almost disappeared in today's world. There is a feeling of vast distances, and slow, hard travel into the unknown which is likewise missing in our modern world of fast transportation and globalization. We get a sense of the smallness of human beings compared to the vast forests, mountains, and rivers of 17th century North America.
An antidote for the neo-romanticism of the AmerIndian
Mark Snegg | 06/03/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Black Robe" is based on a novel of the same title written by the late Brian Moore, who also wrote the film's screenplay. Moore's idea for the plot of his novel and most of the details he used within it came from the Jesuit Relations- a 17th century chronicle of the day to day events of the North American mission of the Society of Jesus. While the Relations' main purpose was to describe successful conversions, miracles, and battles fought against Satan, they are also one of the most important historical records of the lives and customs of many American Indian tribes.The Jesuits presented a wonderful depiction of the people they were trying to convert. Some of the stories are very funny- one Algonquin hired by the Jesuits to be a translator was asked by his employers for the Algonquin words relating to spiritual and religious topics. The translator instructed them and the Jesuits rushed off to preach to the Algonquins. It was only upon being greeted by the peeling laughter of their would-be converts did the Jesuits realize that their translator had instead instructed them on Algonquin foul language.However, the Relations also depict a very grim picture of life in the mid 17th century wilderness. Contrary to what another reviewer has written here- adoption was not guaranteed for anyone! Yes, mass adoption later become something the Iroquois practiced, but only after their numbers had been so badly dwindled in their wars of conquest in the 1650-1670's. Women, children, and the elderly could be hideously tortured to death as well as men. The movie, in fact, was edited to avoid showing the Indians practicing ritual cannibalism on that slain boy- a custom that was common among the tribes of Eastern woodlands. To devour an enemy's flesh was to devour his power. The heart of a particularly brave enemy (such as the Jesuit martyr St. Jean Brebeuf) would be eaten by chiefs.Also in the 17th century, the gauntlet was not the only ordeal for a male prisoner captured alive. If captured a male prisoner would usually have his hands mutiliated in some way- finger joints cut off by either cutting (sometimes with sea shells as shown in the movie) or by biting. Why? A warrior without the use of his fingers was useless- could not pull a bowstring or grasp a knife.One could say that the Jesuits were biased in their desire to portray the Indians as savages and thus justify their conversion. However, the Relations are reknowned for their candor and there are too many other sources that describe women and children captives being summarily executed for little or no reason. (The famed voyageur and explorer Pierre Esprit Radisson in his autobiography "Voyages" saw with his own eyes- children and women being tortured to death by the Mohawks.)The Algonquin bands of hunter/gatherers, with whom the French Jesuits made first contact, lived a mean existence by any standard. Theirs was a society that was utterly "christian" in that they shared everything, but also one that could not tolerate those who fell sick or lame. These unfortunates would just be abandoned. Life was hard enough for those healthy and fit. Also, living in a birchbark tent with almost no ventilation for smoke, zero privacy, a bunch of dogs, and lots of unwashed bodies was probably a much, much nastier place than what was shown in the film. (The meanness of these living conditions must have have been very tough on many members of the Society of Jesus because a lot of them came from families of great wealth and privilege.)"Black Robe," the novel and the film, were meant to be an antidote to the current romancization of the AmerIndians. In recent decades we've taken one myth about the AmerIndians, that of the blood thirsty savage, and replaced it with another, the new age Eagle scout with a bent for ecology. "Black Robe" attempts to hit a middle ground- showing these people as humans who lived in a culture that was governed by different values than our own. They are shown as intelligent and brave, but also as greedy and very cruel. That Europe was awash with blood at the same time is beside the point. Brian Moore was trying to show that North America was never a Garden of Eden- people here still treated people different from themselves very cruelly.As mentioned above, Moore actually held back in the screenplay certain elements of Algonquin life that could be found in his novel. Their everyday language was peppered by words that we would call vulgar- but to them it them it was just talking. They allowed promiscuity among unmarried young men and women- a fact that was found very enticing by French laymen, but scandalized the priests.I don't think this movie is some sort of "propaganda" to perpetuate negative stereotypes on AmerIndians. I do think it is an honest attempt to show that these people were human beings whose lives were governed by the harshness of their surroundings. For an Algonquin band of hunter/gatherers living along the St. Lawrence, life truly was a survival of the fittest. Brian Moore simply held up a picture of the cruelty and difficulty of this existence, if some neo-romanticists don't like what they see then so be it."
The Forgotten Art Of Trusting A Film To Truly TELL A Story
Goodbye Cruel World | Under Your Skin | 01/26/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Black Robe is a lush, incredibly deep, strikingly emotive motion picture, that tells the story of a young Jesuit priest's journey across the dense wilderness of seventeenth-century Quebec, undertaken while he simultaneously experiences a transformative test of his commitment to the stark way of life he has chosen. Which holds the greatest desire for him, a beckoning existence of ease and comfort amid relatives back in France; the possibility of earthly love; or service to God, that almost certainly includes a violent martyrdom?
Guided by his nation's Algonquin allies, the determined, idealistic young man of a privileged caste seeks to take up his assignment at a mission on the edge of "New France's" colonial frontier. As this decidedly quiet and cerebral epic unfolds, a journey of spiritual evolution takes this priest and his small band through numerous personal tests and into the face of many dangers, not merely from the unwelcoming savagery of the landscape itself, but from hostile aboriginals who welcome neither the Algonquians nor the European intruder into their homeland. What begins amid the opulence of Bourbon France becomes bluntly visceral with unsparing depictions of torture, bloodlust, rape, and death, and yet the way in which this tale is left to carry itself toward its most unforeseen climax is absolutely courageous.
There are too many noteworthy performances to list here, and any written description of the scenery within this film would fall flat. With its countless tiny moments that contrast cultures (Algonquians thinking the Frenchmen's' mechanical clock was somehow their king, since they lived by its motions) for the alternating bravery, sadism, devotions and loyalty of those characters within it, for its terrific story, and for its end to end flawless quality, I truly think Black Robe is among the greatest films shot in the 1990's, and might just be at the top of its particular genre."