Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Charity in La Veuve de Saint-Pierre

La Veuve de Saint-Pierre ("The Widow of Saint-Pierre"), a 2000 French film directed by Patrice Leconte, is a fine exploration of the problem of charity and a beautiful period piece. The setting is 1849 in a French colony of islands off Newfoundland. Two assailants brutally murder a man and one, Nell, is condemned to die by guillotine ("veuve" is also the slang term for guillotine and offers a double-entendre for the title). His accomplice is killed by a mob on the way to prison. The colony must wait for the apparatus and find an executioner, a matter of months.

Captain Jean has custody of the prisoner. Meanwhile, his wife, called Madame La, takes on the prisoner as her protégé. She is determined in her plans to rehabilitate him, which includes gardening, helping with community projects, and learning to read. Her husband is wholly devoted to her to the neglect of his duties. The townspeople befriend the condemned, and all but the island's intransigent governors are content. By the time the ship arrives with the guillotine after a long winter and a hapless refugee recruited as executioner, the city is up in arms.

Two men in the story will see a larger picture in the conflict, which is a charity that is connected to destiny and not simply a willful project. Such charity is ultimately impossible without sacrifice.


Dcn Scott Dodge said...

I remember this film well. Thank you for your post on it. I am glad you are reviving Cahiers

clairity said...

Thank you ... I've been feeling the need to blog again, particularly on arts, and what better place than with friends.