Two men commit a senseless murder and one is sentenced to death, but must wait in prison while a guillotine can be shipped to Saint-Pierre et Miquelon; meanwhile the wife of the captain who is holding the prisoner, and the... more » captain himself befriend the prisoner.
""The Widow of Saint-Pierre" is one of those brooding, romantic costume dramas that only the French seem to do well these days. Far from being escapist fare, it is a dark, often profound meditation on the human condition and the vagaries of the human heart. In 1849, on the remote French island of Saint-Pierre off the coast of Newfoundland, an illiterate fisherman commits a drunken, senseless murder and is sentenced to the guillotine. But since the island has no guillotine, the governor must send for one--a process that will take years. Meanwhile, the fisherman is imprisoned in the island fortress; the wife of the garrison commander takes pity on the condemned man, and sets out to rehabilitate him, with the help (at first reluctant, later wholehearted) of her loving husband. Soon the captain and his wife are defying the governor in their attempts to help the condemned man--with tragic consequences. "The Widow of Saint-Pierre" works on several levels: as a romantic drama; as a denunciation of capital punishment and the cruelty of confusing the letter of the law with justice; and as a brilliant delineation of the nature of love, courage and self-sacrifice. Eduardo Serra's photography of the wintry landscape of Saint-Pierre (actually Nova Scotia) is marvelous, and the acting deserves the highest praise. By now, of course, everyone knows how exquisite Juliette Binoche is, and she is as good as ever here. But the thespian honors in this movie go to Daniel Auteuil, an actor of masterful subtlety and power, who makes Gerard Depardieu look like a double order of "jambon a' l'os.""
Quality film with poignant story and excellent acting.
Linda Linguvic | New York City | 12/19/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Set in 1849 on the Island of Saint Pierre off the coast of Canada, this 2001 French film is a sad and human drama about love, sin and redemption. The film starts with a senseless murder and a death sentence for the culprit, played by Emir Kustuica. However, the execution must be carried out by guillotine, which is referred to as "the widow" and there is no such instrument of death in the town. It has to be sent by ship from a French Island in the Caribbean. And this could take as long as a year.The prisoner is under the control of a Captain, played by Daniel Auteuil. He is deeply in love with his wife, played by Juliette Binoche. There are some tender scenes of their lovemaking as well as scenes in which it is clear that he adores her and respects her in all ways. And so, when she sets out to reform the convicted murderer, he supports her wish. The convicted man is allowed out of his prison cell and accompanies her all over the province. He helps out the townspeople and works with her to plant a garden and learns to read. He even impregnates a local woman and marries her. Everyone in the town grows to admire this man and nobody wants the execution to take place.What will happen? I was drawn into the story and, along with the townspeople, I too hoped he would eventually get his freedom. But the story is not as simple as that. And, as the tension heightened and moved towards its conclusion, I found myself clearly upset as I saw the way it was going.This is a good film. The story and acting and cinematography are all excellent. It moved a little too slowly for my taste, however. And I found it hard to believe that the condemned man would be given so much freedom to move around the town. But this doesn't detract from the quality of the film, the empathy I felt throughout for all the characters or the subtleties of characterization that made the story seem real and poignant."
Archmaker | California | 04/25/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The "Widow" of the title is initially the nickname for the guillotine, although, later, there will be other widows.There is a brutal and absurd murder at the opening of the film, and after convicting the perpetrators, the small Canadian community of Saint-Pierre is at a loss as to how to execute them, not having the mandated guillotine. One of the murderers is killed accidentally, and the other is placed under the authority of the Captain of the Guards for the town (Daniel Auteuil). His wife (Juliette Binoche) believes in the inherent goodness of people, and the prisoner becomes her "project", her protege, at first assisting in building a greenhouse with her. The Captain, quick tempered, mercurial, nevertheless adores his wife, and indulges her whims to the point that the prisoner is virtually set free to work in the villages and becomes devoted to the Captain's wife, much to the consternation of the petty bureaucrats who run the town.The prisoner killed while drunk, and under the Captain's wife's influence, now sober, he is transformed and is revealed to be a basically good person. In fact he performs an act of heroism and the people of Saint-Pierre no longer wish his execution. However, the town Leaders have sent for a guillotine, and one is onboard a vessel, making its inexorable way to Saint-Pierre and an inevitable crisis.Really a study of the 3 people involved: the Captain, his wife & the condemned prisoner, the film is not so much a blanket argument against capital punishment as it is a look at the difficulty of finding true justice within the laws of men. Human passions cloud the issues, as do jealousy, envy, the exertion of authority for its own sake, and the denial of the possibility for redemption.Beautifully filmed (I have to quit writing that, cinematography is so universally excellent anymore, it is a surprise if something ISN'T beautifully photographed) in the icy winters of Quebec, we watch the drama unfold, knowing that this is not going to end well.Binoche is beautiful, her smiles of joy at her protege's transformation light the screen. Auteuil's Captain is enigmatic & prickly. There are hints that he has caused himself problems previously, which is why he is in such an isolated & Godforsaken posting. His wife believes in goodness, and he believes in the goodness of his wife. He loves her utterly. It is the irony of the story, that her good intentions and good actions, bringing about a real transformation in a once thuggish man, will result in tragecy for them all. Worth a look. 4-1/2 Stars."
Widow In Black
Lee Armstrong | Winterville, NC United States | 08/19/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Juliette Binoche is an amazing actress. Since her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for "The English Patient" in 1996 and her nomination for "Chocolat," she's an actress whose films I seek. "The Widow of Saint-Pierre" has a bit of irony to the title. The opening frames show Binoche in black staring out of a window. We then move into the flashback in which most of the film moves forward. We learn that the "widow" is the guillotine that must be shipped by boat from France before the big execution can take place. We see director Emir Kusturica in an acting role as the very large prisoner Neel whose rehabilitation Binoche's Madame La seeks. We keep wondering if the black dress is saved for the prisoner. Daniel Autereil who won a Cesar (French Oscar) for his work with director Patrice Leconte for "Ridicule" in 1996 plays the lovestruck Captain who is in charge of the execution. Spurred on by his wild and unconditional love for his wife, he thwarts the town's sentence of death at every turn, refusing to allow his soldiers to help haul the widow ship to shore. In the moment of ultimate irony, Neel volunteers to help bring the widow to shore, which is sure to result in his own execution. The bloody resolution and the final shots of Binoche in black bring the story to its somber conclusion. Patrice Leconte has a great reserve, shooting this excellent screenplay in period costume and letting the depth of his cast work its magic. This is an incredibly tragic romance, one that works exquisitely. Enjoy!"
Perfect love makes perfection in all.
Marty Valencia | Surprise, AZ United States | 02/19/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I find it odd that when reviewing the reviews of this film that people seem to either give it perfect or abysmal scores. The dichotomy of opinion is probably a direct result of the skill and immense power of Leconte's images, (especially those that his chosen actress affords us).
Leconte is a master and quite possibly the greatest living auteur currently making films. His movies often contain a refreshing difficulty that gives one hope that images still mean something, that film is still worthy of being explicated, that someone still cares enough to think that much without being overly clever such as the Coens and Anderson. I shouldn't say still. I should say is and will be, as Leconte is on a different level than any who has ever worked including Kieslowski (the master of images). I enjoy how Leconte has said that although it was his second period piece he approached the film as if that had nothing to do with it, learning from "Ridicule". I should point that out I have no problem with "Ridicule" and the fact that it is a period piece has a great deal to do with the presentation, but I can see what he meant. Like I said, I enjoy the statement, but I should also point out I'm a jerk.
Binoche and Auteuil are two of my favorite actors and this film shows them at their virtuosic best. They deliver amazing performances of a truly passionate couple who both hold unconditional love for the other which in itself contains ultimate trust of decision and character. Possibly more Auteuil's for Binoche's but the sympathy generated by his character fuels her as an equally sharing partner, making any difference negligible. There is a third character, Neel, but he is there only to accentuate the relationship between the other two.
The movie, quite simply is about unconditional love and what it means to love unconditionally. There is a subplot of equal merits (mainly concerning Neel) about the belief in redemption, and what it truly means to believe in redemption. In short it is about the consequences of action through belief, more so out of the love for another than those of moral ground or stance. Some people are not willing to accept the belief that actions can or should occur solely out of sympathy for another. Some people will never allow themselves to love unconditionally. Some people will not understand or even like this film.
Binoche deserves a prize that doesn't yet exist for her most exquisite performance. Leconte deserves recognition for what he has done and what he has given us with this film, certainly one of the best I have ever seen.