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The Widow of St. Pierre

Directed by Patrice St. LeConte

Starring Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Emir Kustarica

French, with subtitles

St. Pierre is a small island south of Newfoundland run by the French. Its main products are salt cod and widows. Salt cod because it sits next to the Grand Banks, and widows because men go out to fish those banks and don't always make it home. In a wall of solid fog, two men drift for four days until rescued by a fishing sloop. One drunken night, they sort of accidentally intentionally kill their old captain in a quest to see if he is really fat (gras) or just big (gros). You know how the French are sticklers for language. When one of the men, Neel (Kustarica), is sentenced to beheading, a small issue arises -- there is no guillotine, and no executioner. Well, the French are sticklers on bureaucracy as well, and it takes a while to get the right stuff up to this remote outpost of fraternity, liberty, and equality. While waiting for the coup de tête, Neel is befriended by Madam La (Binoche) and her husband, La Captain (Auteuil). The general feeling in town that he ought to row to Newfoundland rather than wait for the fatal FedEx package to arrive. While waiting, Neel becomes a favorite all over town, saving a runaway building, patching people's roofs, impregnating the lonely widows, and generally being a scruffy but lovable sea dog. One day the guillotine arrives, a refugee is convinced to pull the rope, and Neel no more. And for defending him, La Captain is sent back to the second republic and shot for sedition. So much for Les Droits d'Homme.

Shot on the spectacular Nova Scotia coast, Widow is one of those touching foreign films that women love and men come to love. Auteuil is oh so dashing, and has perfected the art of staring off in the distance and making it look interesting. Binoche is sweet and charming and never gets in trouble for her innocence, and Kustarica becomes instantly lovable, but you wish he'd wash a bit. The movie isn't really about the death penalty, as Kustrica did wrong, knew it, and accepted the verdict. It's more about despair and existentialism -- everyone is just one step away from complete misery, and even if the chance to move farther away arises, it's not taken. When life is miserable, stopping it feels so good.