The "widow" referred to in the title of La Veuve de Saint-Pierre
isn't a woman, but a mechanism--to be exact, the guillotine, (though the title does take on a second meaning in the tragic final moments of the film). We're on the island of Saint-Pierre, a tiny forgotten French colony off the coast of Newfoundland, midway through the 19th century. A senseless drunken murder is committed and the killer is condemned to death, but zut alors!
, there's no guillotine on the island. So one must be requested from the slow, bureaucratic authorities in Paris and, once approved, laboriously shipped over. Meanwhile the killer, a simple-minded giant of a man, is placed in the custody of the Captain, whose beautiful wife starts taking an interest in the prisoner.
Director Patrice Leconte has always had an acute feel for place and period--he directed the mordantly witty costume drama Ridicule--and La Veuve vividly captures the sense of remoteness and resentful isolation of this blizzard-swept community. The brooding landscape, all slate-blues and greys, is beautifully framed by Eduardo Serra's camera, and Leconte draws affecting performances from his central trio of actors: Daniel Auteuil, with his intriguingly lopsided face, as the Captain; Juliette Binoche, radiantly vulnerable as his wife; and, in an unexpected but remarkably successful bit of casting, Serbian film director Emir Kusturica as the condemned man. La Veuve de Saint-Pierre may be a touch over-solemn at times, and its message is hardly unexpected; but it's an intelligent, engrossing and richly atmospheric piece of filmmaking. --Philip Kemp
Saint-Pierre, a small island off the Canadian coast, in the year 1850. Fisherman Neel Auguste (Emir Kusturica) is found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. The authorities send for a guillotine from the mainland, but while waiting for it to arrive, Neel becomes a popular member of the community, forming particularly strong bonds with his custodians, married couple Jean and Pauline (Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche). When the guillotine finally arrives the Governor insists that the sentence be carried out, but the people of the island refuse to co-operate.