Starring: Juliette Binoche, Daniel Auteui
Director: Patrice Leconte
What would happen if a state which had the right to capitally punish its citizens, could not find anyone prepared to perform the execution?
This is the territory explored by Patrice Leconte’s intelligent new film, La Veuve de Saint-Pierre.
In the mid-19th century, on the French colonial island of St Pierre, a sailor is convicted of murder at sea. He protests his innocence, but the local court finds him guilty. The mandatory sentence is death by guillotine.
The island does not have a guillotine, so one has to be brought from the French Caribbean. The captain of the police (Daniel Auteuil) houses the sailor in the jail next to his re
sidence. The captain’s wife (Juliette Binoche) befriends the prisoner and comes to see his fine qualities. She extols his virtues and he does community work while awaiting execution.
After a year, when the guillotine arrives at St Pierre, the captain and his wife fight for the prisoner’s life and for their own survival.
This film is like a period version of Dead Man Walking. The two films share many things. The lead actors give magnificent performances. Both are emotionally moving. The cinematography is better in this film but the plot is not as politically current as Dead Man Walking. The questions raised in both films, however, about violence, redemption and forgiveness are critical for a world that sees Shaft dominating the multiplexes.
This French Canadian film is worth every effort that you make to see it.