Star-crossed lovers … hypocritical clergy and corrupt politicians … history writ small … Taking as its backdrop the years in which France lost its Canadian “New France” colony to England, “Nouvelle-France” fans the flames of passion, undoused by time or clunky exposition. Sweeping yet truncated saga’s dialogue is wooden only about half the time (at least in French — an English-lingo version was shot simultaneously) and venture is agreeably over-stuffed with melodramatic developments. Having opened mostly unheralded on July 20 in Gaul, costliest film ever made in Quebec plays like a reasonably diverting TV miniseries.
Efficiently but indifferently lensed saga begins with a horse-drawn carriage arriving by moonlight at a remote hospice somewhere in Quebec. The passenger, a woman named France, in her late 20s, visits dying priest Thomas Blondeau (Gerard Depardieu).
He summoned her in hopes of illuminating a mystery he precipitated two decades prior. His regrets, we will later learn, stem from having misrepresented the contents of a crucial letter to this young woman’s illiterate mother, Marie-Loup Carignan (Noemie Godin-Vigneau).
Body of the pic then flashes back to 20 years earlier, circa 1759, as Francois Le Gardeur (David La Haye) returns home from a hunting trip to learn his powerful father died mere days before. Francois is more free-spirited than his late dad, who was seemingly in cahoots with Intendant Le Bigot (Vincent Perez) to loot New France’s wealth.
Francois spots young widow Marie-Loup, and is immediately impressed by her fearlessness.
Wed at 14 and widowed soon after, Marie-Loup is young, headstrong and suspected of being a witch because she knows ancient remedies.
Meanwhile, New France’s days are numbered. Across the ocean in England, Ben Franklin (Colm Meaney) is visiting Prime Minister William Pitt (a bemused Tim Roth) who entrusts gung-ho General James Wolfe (Jason Isaacs) with wresting Canada from the French.
Marie-Loup and Francois realize they have one of those really intense love connections, like Romeo and Juliet or Abelard and Heloise. And they’ll fare about as well.
Just before Francois is dispatched to Versailles to ask Madame Pompadour to get the King to fight harder for New France, he sends an urgent letter to Marie-Loup begging her to join him. But, driven by the kind of secret passion that is apparently handed out to movie and TV priests with their cassocks, Father Blondeau selfishly tells her the letter says Francois must depart and she can’t follow. Mega-bummer.
Before you know it, the Brits have won. The movie, however, still has quite a ways to go.
Unsure as to whether Francois is still alive, Marie-France marries Xavier Maillard (Sebastien Huberdeau), the Quebec City militia captain who was Francois’ best friend but heartlessly betrayed him.
When Xavier turns up dead, arrests are made and any number of lives are on the line.
Final stretch manages some genuine emotion, with the public execution well-depicted.
Thesps are good enough and obviously sincere, with high marks for Irene Jacob as Le Bigot’s mistress, a wily courtesan who turns out to have moral standards.
Overly emphatic score is standard for the genre, reaching a musical low during a sword fight. Closing ditty sung by Celine Dion is no more memorable than the film.