“This film (presented in full below), by the very talented Bruce Beresford, should have won the Academy Award. It has great acting, exquisite scenery, a haunting sound track, and thought provoking story. To my knowledge, it is the best film to show effectively the collision of native American and European cultures or, for that matter, to depict any cross culural misunderstanding. There is some gratuitous violence. Yet the overall impact of the film is not diminished. The film depicts a French missionary seeking to convert suspicious native Americans, whose world views are indeed a continent away.
Set in 1634, this film follows the travels of Father LaForgue (Lothaire Bluteau), a Jesuit priest called upon to search for a remote Canadian mission surrounded by Huron settlements. LaForgue, guided by a group of distrustful yet kind Algonquin natives, embarks on a trek across unfamiliar and treacherous terrain. The young priest’s small party fends off the vicious attacks of the Iroquois tribe before finally reaching their destination. There, LaForgue finds the mission in a tragic state.
The group meet with a band of Montagnais, First Nations people who have never met Frenchmen before. The Montagnais shaman is suspicious (and implicitly jealous) of LaForgue’s influence over the Algonquins. He accuses him of being a devil. He encourages Chomina and the other Algonquins to abandon the two Frenchmen and travel instead to a winter hunting lodge. This they do, paddling away from the Frenchmen. LaForgue accepts his fate, but Daniel is determined to stay with Annuka and follows the Indians as they march across the forest. When one Indian tries to shoot Daniel, Chomina is consumed by guilt at having betrayed Champlain’s trust. He and a few other members of the Algonquin tribe return with Daniel to try to find LaForgue.
As they recover LaForgue, a party of Iroquois (specifically Mohawk) attacks them, killing Chomina’s wife and taking the rest captive. They are taken to an Iroquois fortress, where they are forced to run the gauntlet, to watch Chomina’s young son killed, and told they will be slowly tortured to death the next day.
Joanna Francis writes,
Black Robe is a rare cinematic gem, a true artistic treasure. It’s the story of a young French priest who goes off to New France to bring the Catholic Faith to the Native peoples, the harshships he endures, and the cultural clashes between the two. Even if the film did not have a Catholic theme I would probably still have loved it. It would be worth watching for the beautiful cinematography alone, as well as the accurate portrayal of the Native American people. Not to mention the overall Frenchiness of the film, which appeals to me as a francophile.
Black Robe received praise for being a magnificently staged combination of top talents delivering a gripping and tragic story, and has been rated one of the most meticulously researched representations of Native American life ever put on film.
In other words, it’s not the Canadian Dances with Wolves. The film is centered around the young Jesuit priest as he is escorted by members of the Algonquin tribe up river into the far northern reaches of Quebec, into Huron territory, in order to establish a mission. The story is based on actual letters written by Jesuit priests from New France and recalls the stories of great North American Martyrs like St. Isaac Jogues and St. Jean de Brébeuf , et al., who suffered horrible deaths to bring the Faith to the Native peoples…the whole thing is about loving and sacrificing, even when your love is not returned and you don’t get to see the fruits of your labor. But those missionaries planted seeds of faith in the American soil that were watered with their own blood…
The movie was met with rave reviews by the public as well, and not just by devout Catholics. That’s what’s so amazing about this film, that it’s actually not anti-Catholic and yet it’s a super high quality production. Devout Christians usually have to settle for movies that look like they were filmed with a camcorder, since Hollywood bigshots are anti-Catholic (recall Mel Gibson’s ordeal). As one impressed commenter wrote on IMDB: “One really can’t get the full impact of this [movie] through a review.”
—Culled from various reviews, Wikipedia, Amazon, IMBD. Joanna Francis
DVD: ….at Amazon