JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Battle of the Brave (Director: Jean Beaudin) - October 15, 2005
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Battle of the Brave

Nouvelle-France

4 4
142 min.

The Passion of the Witch

“You took advantage of my ignorance!”

—illiterate Marie-Loup Carignan to her parish priest, Father Blondeau

Set in 1758 Canada, Nouvelle France, with its corrupt, greedy, power-mad politicians, generals and clergy is as contemporary as the Gomery Commission, death by “friendly” fire and molestation payouts from “The Church” in today’s “mature” country (plus ça change … indeed!). But Jean Beaudin’s film is first and foremost a beautifully paced, compellingly unfolded love story which revels in the allure of the doomed couple even as the screen is awash in sumptuous, detail-rich settings and—in the oh-so-rare grand Romantic tradition—effused with a score that threatens to overwhelm the angst, anguish and anatomy of the protagonists.

With the economics of “art” gutting the music line of so many of today’s cinematic offerings, it is a great pleasure to savour composer Patrick Doyle’s lushly painted tracks with a full-cry—non midi—orchestra. To be sure, there are moments of unabashed melodramatic cheesiness (the strings scurrying upwards into the BIG kiss, giving new meaning to “lip sync”), but that further reinforces Beaudin’s vision and is ideal for his broadly brushed canvass.

Whether intended or ingrained, Doyle pays homage to the masters: a motif from Mahler’s Symphony No.7 is an ominous precursor for Marie-Loup (Noémie Godin-Vigneau, she-wolf extraordinaire); Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet lets the ever-eager brass underpin the betrayals and vengeance to come; an echo of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman—pitch perfect as the British pound the be-Jesus out of Québec City; Verdi’s high-string entr’acte from La Traviata (with Zeffirelli-inspired prison-bar framing a most welcome addition) adds poignant verisimilitude to the last coupling; and—most effective of all—a Villa-Lobos-like solo voice (colour only: no text) emerges from nowhere as mother/daughter bid their silent “adieu” just as the curtain drops on the final tragedy. Marvellous!

Not to be outdone, Louis de Ernsted’s head-shot-brilliant camera and Jean-François Bergeron and Yves Langlois’ editing savvy spin this tale of nation-building with care and sensitivity. Unforgettable are the images of an eagle climbing, then, in the flash of a talon, a spectacular bird’s eye point of view on the magnificent landscape below.

With so much mythology and “other-worldliness” (pubescent France, Juliette Gosselin, uses an Innu doll in voodoo fashion to punish her potion-rendering mother’s new husband) in the script, the animal metaphors (riderless horse as death knell nearly coincides with Prometheus scream from pain as François le Gardeur (David La Haye whose eyes seem bigger than life) wins the battle with his “best friend” Xavier Maillard (Sébastien Huberdeau, who oozes treachery with zeal) but loses the war when snagged by a Straw Dogs bear trap.

With such a deliberate tempo, (cross-references below) Beaudin and writer Pierre Billon risk losing today’s instant-gratification audience, and at times (notably after the friends’ fight) the narrative stalls the art. But for the rest of us who enjoy “heavenly lengths” Battle of the Brave is a welcome tonic to the “franaticism” of everyday life. JWR

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