Saint Pierre and Miquelon is situated in the North Western Atlantic Ocean near Canada and is the only remnant of the former colonial empire of New France that remains under French control. At the time of the last census, January 2011, it had a population of 6080. The islands are situated at the entrance of Fortune Bay on the southern coast of Newfoundland.
If you were to visit the museum on Saint-Pierre you would find that it contained a guillotine. The only time that this decapitation device has ever been used in North America was in the late 19th century when it was used to behead Joseph Neel who was convicted of killing a Mr Coupard on the 30th December 1888. The guillotine had to be shipped from Martinique and did not arrive in working order. It seemed almost impossible to get anyone on the Island to carry out this barbaric act until finally a recent immigrant was 'coaxed' into carrying out the task. Neel was subsequently executed on the 24th August 1889.
It was this event that was the inspiration for the French movie La veuve de Saint-Pierre (2000) or to give it it's English title The Widow of Saint-Pierre. Taken from the court records of the time the film tells how after stabbing their old sea captain to death two men were convicted of his murder and sentenced to death by guillotine. One of the men Louis Ollivier is killed in a freak accident whilst being taken to await his execution while the other Neel Auguste is placed under the supervision of an army Captain to await the arrival of the guillotine. While he is in his custody he is allowed a certain amount of freedom and the Captains beautiful wife Madame La takes an interest in his rehabilitation eventually giving him back his self-respect by allowing him to carry out various tasks for the local community, who in turn see a changed man. A year after he was sentenced the ship carrying the instrument of his death finally arrives in port but the Captain, his wife and the local inhabitants do not want to see Auguste executed.
Superbly directed and co-written by Patrice Leconte, who has been responsible for such films as The Hairdressers Husband (1990) The Girl on the Bridge (1999) and L’homme du train (2002). This is a story of the redemption of a brutal killer and how a woman can love two men at the same time, one physically and the other puritanically. This wonderfully paced and detailed period drama stars Juliette Binoche as the redeeming Madame La with the Serbian born actor Emir Kusturica as Neel Auguste, both of whom were deservedly nominated for acting awards. Although Daniel Auteuil, who plays the Captain, spends a lot of time prancing about on a horse he still plays his part in making this movie an exceptionally good watch. It was filmed on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia a rather splendid location emphasised by cinematographer Eduardo Serra. Highly recommended if you enjoy a good French period drama.