Seraphin

Also known as Seraphin: Heart of Stone
(2002) In French, with English subtitles

Donalda: "I'm awake, Alexis. No dream hurts like this."

Seraphin is a realistic period piece set in the small village of Saint Adele, sometime in the horse-and-buggy past. The action starts in the summer, when beautiful young Donalda and reformed bad boy Alexis are happy and in love. Alexis goes away to earn money so that they can get married. Unfortunately, circumstances force Donalda to marry Seraphin, the town mayor, a man as heartless and cold as Quebec in February.

No one is ever actually happy in Saint Adele. Life is hard, and often short. Winters are long and brutal. There is the constant presence of death. (In other words, life sucks, and then you die.) Donalda and Seraphin marry in the winter. Donalda arrives at her new home to find that the fire has literally gone out, and the cupboard is literally bare. Life from that point on is so cold and bleak that you can practically feel the snow seeping into your shoes.

Seraphin, played convincingly by Pierre Lebeau, is an intensely dislikable character with no redeeming qualities. An undertaker and obsessive miser, his stinginess is so Dickensian that it verges on caricature. One scene I found hard to forget was Seraphin refusing to make a larger coffin for a dead child because a smaller one was already made; the father had no choice but to allow his son's body to be jammed into it. It reminded me of the Greek myth of the Procrustean Bed, which had a lot to do with the main plot. Donalda is certainly forced into a bed that does not fit her.

My heart bled for Donalda; Karine Vanasse's performance was just wonderful. Roy Dupuis as Alexis was also very good; he has some fine scenes, and his character was given some negative characteristics and depth instead of just being a bland hero-type. But I was still left wondering what he had that attracted Donalda so strongly. Was it just his (undeniably formidable) looks and agreeable nature? I also wondered at certain points what was going on with his character. It might have made for a more balanced story if we had spent more time with Alexis, and less with Seraphin. (Of course, that's partly the Roy fan in me talking.)

"Un homme et son peche" means "a man and his sin." Donalda says early on that she needs to be careful about sinning with Alexis. As the movie progresses, the nature of sin is essentially redefined, because sometimes, everyone knows that something is wrong even when the church says it is right.

The story is compelling, the production values are excellent, and the acting is first rate. But as good as it is, I found this movie to be unrelentingly grim. I liked it better the second time I saw it, when I was better prepared for all the death and depression.

Three out of four stars,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

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