2000, France/Canada, directed by Patrice Leconte
Patrice Leconte's second period foray has the same interest in - even obsession with - ground-level realities as his earlier Ridicule, persistently bringing the camera down to the mud and rain of the islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, buffeted by the Atlantic. As in Ridicule, Leconte is careful to avoid the clichés of period filmmaking - the story concerns the only sentence of death passed on the islands, in the mid-1800s - and his camera moves quickly, at odd angles, through the story, though the more sombre theme here denies his film the exuberant energy of its predecessor, while the off-kilter shots sometimes become more of a distraction than necessary, calling insistent attention to the director's choices. More successful is his use of a series of shots framed by doorways and windows that create an air of almost voyeuristic intimacy with the action.
Leconte's best films generally take place in carefully circumscribed locations, and he's most confident here with the interior set pieces, which often sparkle, particularly as Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche, recent arrivals to the islands, assert themselves amongst the local bourgeoisie. There's a sense that the most important action occurs behind closed doors, not outside where battles appear to be fought, and Leconte sketches the local dignitaries with economy and wit. Emir Kusturica, much better known as a director, delivers a fine performance as the condemned man whose treatment divides the islands' ruling class from many of the inhabitants; it's unfortunate, however, that the film doesn't provide more insight into the motivations of his two chief protectors.