Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Maria Chapdelaine

(Gilles Carle, 1983)
For a period piece literary adaptation set in pioneer Quebec, this displays a fair amount of artistry and wit. Beautiful, for sure, but especially in the early scenes there's a surprising touch of irreverent energy, and the film takes an active interest in the outside world, whose technology and ideas only reach this remote outpost in occasional and partial driblets. There's also a lot of idle talk of 'savages', though, and that aspect of the outside world gets a much less considered hearing, with a few initial overtures to irony quickly overwhelmed and abandoned, and not a single native Canadian on screen. Instead, Nick Mancuso's freewheeling trapper is supposed to represent the so-called wild side while Donald Lautrec's snooty city slicker stands in for civilization, and the through line of the film involves Carole Laure's Maria Chapdelaine deciding whether to cast her lot with one of these extremes or with Pierre Curzi's featureless, lunkheaded settler. Alas, the game is rigged, as Mancuso is eliminated from contention by Darwinian means and Lautrec's straw-man antics cheat the themes in a way that the other urban incursions do not. But even if the contest was fair you'd hardly be on the edge of your seat, because Laure has zilch to do except stand around and look pretty; her character is so overridden with diaristic voiceover that she eventually starts to recall Christopher Lee in "Starship Invasions". The cliched Third Act Tragedy Cluster is no doubt attributable to Louis Hemon, but it's Carle who suffers the consequences, as the fragile and peripheral virtues of his version get buried in the snow.

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