BLACK ROBE (1991)
Three and a half stars out of five. Directed by: Bruce Beresford. Starring Lothaire Bluteau, Tantoo Cardinal, Aden Young, Sandrine Holt, August Schellenberg, Billy Two Rivers. Running time: 100 minutes
Set against the backdrop of an as yet uncolonized Canada, Black Robe tells the story of the first Jesuit missionaries to set foot in the New World with hopes of converting the Aboriginal peoples to Christianity. Lothaire Bluteau (Daniel in Jesus of Montreal) reprises his role of the saintly martyr as he plays Father Laforgue, a man of God who fears nothing — even when he should. Believing he is on a mission from the Almighty Himself, Laforgue heads up-river with his Algonquin guide in search of his proselytizing brothers who have built a mission in the midst of this vast, empty landscape. Realizing too late that he was leading his Algonquin friends into hostile territory, Laforgue is forced to watch as the Iroquois close in with deadly consequences. Australian director Beresford handles the subject matter without drawing judgments, and as a result, gives us a film that leaves us with an empty pit in our stomachs as we search for some larger sense of meaning that simply isn’t there. Tragic, bloody and surreal, the film offers valuable insight into the Canadian condition as it shows us our ugly colonial beginnings without any desire to decorate the truth with pretty lies. After all, much of this chapter in Canadian history has been covered up, just like the gory parts of the Jesuit mural in the martyr’s shrine in Midland, Ont. Hidden beneath a little curtain is a visual account of the martyrs’ violent deaths alongside undeniably objectionable portrayals of First Nations people. You can’t see those parts of the mural any longer, but we actually have an original print from the ’30s (pictured above), showing what’s now considered too politically incorrect to share. Yes, they are offensive images, but they are the visual reference point for Beresford’s movie.
– Katherine Monk