Take a Drink: whenever parrallels are drawn between the French & Native Americans
Take a Drink: every time someone calls “Black Robe” a demon
Take a Drink: for every mention of the clock
Do a Shot: for scatalogical humor
Do a Shot: for Indian Master Blaster
By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
One of the most successful films ever at the Genie Awards (Canadian Oscars) was Bruce Beresford’s 1991 historical film Black Robe. The only film in history to win more Genies was Canuck Classic Strange Brew.
Molson abuse might have affected my memory…
Black Robe is about a 17th Century French Jesuit in Quebec (Lothaire Bluteau) who’s sent by his superior to a distant Huron outpost. Accompanying him on his journey is an idealistic young trapper (Aden Young), who falls in love with the daughter (Sandrine Holt) of the leader (August Schellenberg) of the small band of Native Americans guiding them. Love, conviction, and misunderstanding threaten to tear them apart even as they begin.
This film is an achievement in world-building first and foremost. It was meticulously researched, which is evident in the results. From the detailed production design to the myriad native languages to the very clothes they wear, everything feels authentic and lived in.
Cinematographer Peter James and director Bruce Beresford capture one stunning Canadian autumn vista after another. This is a consistently gorgeous film, right down to the final spectacular sunset-lit pan.
Narrative-wise, Black Robe does two things quite well. It really conveys how alien and formidable a land the New World would have been to these early explorers, and how exceptional their courage and persistence must have been in the face of it. It also excellently portrays the point of view of the Native Americans vis a vis these strange incompetent newcomers that don’t even have enough sense not to get lost in the woods. Their exasperation and confusion with the demands of these hairy strangers is much more realistic than the noble savage or bloodthirsty villain stereotypes we usually get.
A favorite North American trope.
If only the Jesuits were written as convincingly. Beresford obviously admires these men, but he fails to engage with their Christian mindset and motivations. Compare it to The Mission, whose raison d’etre is grappling with how faith and conviction drove these men. Here these things are recognized, but not examined, and likely not understood. What Black Robe does do is tell a beautiful human story, well… right up to a postscript that muddies those waters and makes you question what exactly the ultimate message is.
There is some stilted dialogue in the beginning, but rather than blame the actors, who are uniformly good, I believe it’s the cumbersome editing. The editing also burdens the action scenes, which are as awkwardly shot as they are devastating plotwise.
Black Robe sufers thematically by trying to please too many masters instead of just telling a story, but regardless is a beautifully shot and produced period piece about a time rarely explored on film.