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The Daily Tar Heel

Romantic `Widow' Appeals to Francophiles

If you don't like the French, if you hate listening to people speak French, if you detest everything that is French, like fleur-de-lis and drunken debauchery, or if you just can't read fast enough to catch the aforementioned subtitles, don't go see "The Widow of St. Pierre."

Of course, you'd be missing out on one of the better romantic dramas of the season.

Golden Globe-nominated "The Widow of St. Pierre" ("La Veuve de Saint-Pierre") was originally released in France a year ago, but it is just now making its cinematic run in the United States. Set on a small snowy island off the coast of Canada in the year 1849, "The Widow of St. Pierre" is the story of one man's senseless murder and his killer's subsequent death sentence via la guillotine.

As the town waits for a guillotine and executioner to arrive from France, Madame La (Juliette Binoche), the captain's wife, takes on convict Neel Auguste (Emir Kusturica) as a protege.

The two become intimate friends and Jean (Daniel Auteuil), the captain, is torn between his duty to execute Neel and his utter devotion to the happiness of his wife.

Really, the base plot is fairly simple. But don't be fooled, there are plenty of twists and turns along the road to beheading.

Rumors spread and soon Madame La is suspected of extramarital relations with Neel. Rumors or not, Binoche and Kusturica have amazing on-screen chemistry. Their unconsummated, lusty curiosity is bittersweet and tempting.

Yet, one cannot help but feel sympathy for the captain whose very day and night lie in Madame La's eyes.

This awkward pseudo-love triangle of course sets everyone up for a fall. But Binoche upholds her reputation as a saintly French sweetheart, excluding one randy little sex scene with the captain, and it never betrays her marital vows.

Madame La is a much better woman than I. Rough-and-tumble convict or stuffy devoted husband, who would you pick?

Binoche delivers a flawless performance. With "The Widow of St. Pierre" and "Chocolat" under her belt, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see her become an art-film icon.

Daniel Auteuil has also come a long way since his series of French movies about murder, gardening and creepy men in love with beautiful girls, "Manon des Sources." (I was forced to watch these movies in every French class I have ever taken. Auteuil was this freaky guy in love with a blond vixen, Manon of the Spring. She rejected him, he killed himself. The two of them have a daughter together now, go figure.)

But even with a solid cast, "The Widow of St. Pierre" is somehow lacking. Maybe it's the fact that the conclusion is once again one of those unhappy endings the film industry has been so fond of as of late.

While it's a very good film, "The Widow of St. Pierre" is not a great film. I did not feel particularity touched or moved after watching it.

But I was by myself and without anyone to make snide French remarks to, like "Je suis le grand fromage."

But don't let my flippancy dissuade you. One of these warm, summer evenings, grab your baguettes and head to "The Widow of St. Pierre" for a little culture. It will be a nice, short break from all that studying you're doing for exams.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at

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