First official co-production between Canada and Australia is a magnificently staged combination of top talents delivering a gripping and tragic story about a 17th-century Jesuit priest’s expedition through remote areas of ‘New France’ (Quebec). Indian dialog is translated into English sub-titles.
Saga begins in 1634 at Fort Champlain, where newly arrived French Jesuit priest Lothaire Bluteau (whom the Indians call ‘Black Robe’ because of his austere garb), is assigned to a difficult and dangerous journey 1,500 miles north to the mission outpost of Ihonatiria. He’s accompanied by a handful of friendly Algonquin Indians, led by the chief (August Schellenberg), his wife (Tantoo Cardinal), daughter (Sandrine Holt) and young son.
Also joining the party is Aden Young as a young French carpenter who develops a passionate relationship with the Algonquin girl. The travelers are captured, beaten and tortured. The priest arrives at his destination to find the priest in charge (Frank Wilson) dying and the local Indians decimated by a fever brought by the white men.
Director Bruce Beresford and writer Brian Moore [adapting his own novel] have made this intriguing yarn a small epic of endurance. The production has an austere beauty and thoughtful approach. Bluteau gives a moving performance in the central role, and Schellenberg is particularly notable as the friendly Chomina.