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"When someone does see us for who we really are, here and now, we feel liberated."
Raymond Teague is the author of Reel
Spirit: A Guide to Movies That
He is an award-winning
His book is available by clicking the "Buy the Book" link above or by clicking here.
"Reel Spirit" Movie Reviews
The Widow of Saint-Pierre
A professor of Buddhism whom I once heard speak said that by the age of twenty-five, he had lied, cheated, and killed. But, he said, he was not a liar, a cheater, or a murderer. His point was that we are more than our past actions.
All too often, however, those around us and even close to us refuse to see beyond past impressions and opinions; they don't see that it is possible to grow and change. When someone does see us for who we really are, here and now, we feel liberated.
In this exquisitely somber story based on true events and directed by Patrice Leconte, we see both the beauty of people seeing beyond labels and the horror of people holding to old labels.
Pauline (Juliette Binoche), the wife of the captain (Daniel Auteuil) of the garrison on the French island of St. Pierre off the east coast of Canada in 1849, is one who sees the person and not the deed.
Pauline befriends a man named Neel Auguste (Emir Kusturica) who has been convicted of murder and sentenced to die by the guillotine - as soon as the instrument can be shipped to the island.
"We change, whatever we do," Pauline says. Supported by her adoring husband the captain, Pauline becomes Neel's mentor. The captain allows Neel to help his wife in her greenhouse and to do odd jobs for locals. His helpfulness, gentleness, and an outstanding act of heroism earn Neel the respect and love of the island's citizens.
Speaking of the local bureaucrats who seek Neel's beheading, Pauline says, "They aren't punishing the man they sentenced." In other words, they are responding to Neel's past action, not to who he is as a person.
Of course, Neel's case brings up questions about the death penalty, the purpose of punishment (reform or revenge?) and the role of forgiveness and redemption in considering punishment.
These leaders criticize Pauline for being "too compassionate," but in truth she is simply responding to a person in need with an open heart and open eyes. She accepts Neel for who he has become and who he is as a person, rather than labeling him based on an act committed while under the influence of alcohol. She responds to him with true, unselfish, unconditional love - regardless of ramifications.
Pauline is not acting out of romantic attraction to Neel. For her, romance is saved for her husband, who idolizes her and tells her, "I love you for what you are." The couple have a deeply loving relationship that cannot be taken from them - no matter what happens.
"They can't do anything to harm us. I love you," the captain tells Pauline. He recognizes that just as people are more than their actions, so they are more than their bodies and human lives.
They are, in the ultimate analysis, the love they give and receive.