Background: Historical mini-dramas are a dime a dozen these days as folks seem to rely on them for a sense of history, regardless of any inaccuracies presented using the normal literary devices of story telling. In short, those of you who watch movies and television expecting to see events transpire as they actually occurred will be sorely disappointed if you compare the entertainment mediums with reality, so I always suggest that folks just kick back and watch such movies with the spirit of disbelief they are made with (in my experience, writers and directors seem as ignorant of historical accuracy as I am of the social graces). That said, I turned my reviewer's eye to a movie made in Canada (Quebec actually) called Battle of the Brave (originally called Nouvelle France).
Movie: Battle of the Brave is a romantic drama set primarily in 1759 using the backdrop of Quebec as the main stage. The box cover would suggest it was "an epic tale of desire, courage, and destiny" but in reality, it was simply a love story about a man, a woman, and those who would keep the two apart. Marie-Loup (Noemie Godin-Vigneau) is a strong willed woman in a time when such were not given much respect, raising her daughters to be as independent as she is, despite the social mores of the time. Although a white woman, she uses Indian medicinal treatments made of herbs to heal people and thus brings about the suspicious eye of some who think her to be using witchcraft. She flaunts her disrespect for the law and those in power routinely, branding her a target of a rich lord that wants her as a plaything as much for her beauty as her defiant attitude.
Francois, a trapper whose industrious father has just passed away and left him the family fortune, sees Marie-Loup defending her adopted daughter from the authorities after he arrives home to settle his father's estate and instantly takes a liking to her. Their paths cross a few more times, with the physical attraction both have for the other entered into cautiously by the gal who has seen the evil that men do to get their way. When he informs the lady that the lord seeks her womanly gifts and to be cautious of those who have befriended her in his name, she is at first resentful but soon learns that he was truly looking out for her best interests. He assists her escape from the treacherous lord and the two go at it off screen like the star struck lovers we've all seen before in the movies.
The story would have ended happily ever after but for the intervention of a priest (Gerard Depardieu) who schemes to use Francois in a plan to keep Quebec under French rule. England and France are at war over territories all over the world and France is wavering in its commitment to the colony since it doesn't yield any treasures and costs so much to defend. Part of the plan requires Francois to go to Switzerland and France unattached, so the events that lead this to happening are manipulated by the priest to keep the lovers apart. Francois becomes a fugitive from a corrupt system after he trusts a close friend of his, Captain Maillard (Sebastien Huberdeau), who ultimately betrays him. Francois seeks the assistance for his homeland after losing everything but finds no luck in the capitals of Europe, returning to find Marie-Loup married to the evil Captain. One thing leads to another and the two almost kill each other, with the now English led colony setting up a trial to condemn the killer of Maillard. Without spoiling you on the specifics, suffice it to say that the ending is not as happy as some would like.
The movie's website put it like this: "Set against a sweeping historical fresque, the epic tale of a great love story thwarted by fortune and men's will...
1758-61: a turbulent period bridging the collapse of New France and the establishment of the British regime. An "era of passions". This tragic love story of a young peasant girl from the lower Saint Laurent River and a dashing adventurer is based on fact. As their passionate destiny advances inexorably, driven by fate, it mirrors another story that's already been written: France's abandon of Canada.
François Le Gardeur is a daring, adventurous young man. He rejects his family who he finds too bourgeois, preferring to roam in the forests and live with the American Indians (know as "the savages" by the settlers). Returning from hunting, he hastens back to Quebec. Too late: his father died three days early, leaving his son an inheritance that will bring him more grief than happiness. Le Gardeur soon discovers that his father was wheeling and dealing on a massive scale with Intendant Bigot. Their financial scams will eventually contribute to the fall of New France.
The day after his return Le Gardeur meets Marie-Loup, the miller Carignan's daughter, on the market square. It's love at first sight. Marie-Loup is a determined young woman despite her modest origins, in advance of her era. Her outspoken attitude and free spirit is criticized by Father Blondeau, although his rebukes are tinged with indulgence as the poor man is secretly in love with her. And her friendship with "the savages" is frowned upon by the local people - she's rumoured to have "witch's powers" because she uses the shaman's remedies for healing the sick.
Faith. Abandonment. To believe in eternal love. To abandon a country, a woman. The faith of the priest who resists the invader by becoming his ally. The faith of Marie who will give everything. The faith of Le Gardeur who will give everything too. The abandon of the Nouvelle-France by the mother country. The Characters are in foreground. We follow them, they are living their passion right in front of us. We don't want to see them die, we don't want to see them abandon us. We have faith, love should prevail. Or not. And History is in the background. Bouncing back the themes in echo. Overwhelming us with its splendour, it's force. It's treachery."
So, in short, this is the kind of historical love story that the box cover seemed intent on selling as an action adventure movie, making my review something of a cold light of reality for it. The historical inaccuracies aside, the acting was very mixed in terms of quality and the original script that called for lengthy battles was trimmed when the costs were realized as being too high. That helped make the movie look much like a miniseries edited down to a two hour movie (take any popular mini-series of the last thirty years and edit out most of the action portions to keep the love story and this will fit right in as a contemporary). As a fan of Depardieu, I was hoping his role was far larger but it was a bit part that he seemed to phone in; far less than the cover spot gave him. The leads were pleasant enough and the troubles that they faced fair but the sense of pacing, the fights displayed, and the plot holes you could fit Quebec into were all such that it made me wonder if there had originally been a much richer tapestry woven but the financial concerns caused it to be discarded in favor of getting the basics done for release. As such a movie, the best I could rate it would be a Skip It but if you want an unbelievable romance tale that followed little rhyme or reason, by all means check this one out.
Picture: Battle of the Brave was presented in a luxurious 1.85:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen color. The sweeping camerawork done in the movie looked fantastic and it was clear where the majority of the budget went given how lovely the film looked. The fleshtones were accurate, the grain minimal, and the colors in general were rich with the sense of detail one would expect from a major flick. Unfortunately, the visual quality of the film was one of the best things to be said about it and if this one truly cost the reported $30 million in US dollars, someone needs to meet the guillotine. There were times when the movie came across like a prime time mini-series though the cuts it went through were obvious too.
Sound: The audio was presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital English with optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing. The production was definitely heavy on the front channels with little use of the rear speakers or subwoofer, even in the admittedly limited action and battle sequences. The dialogue was crisp and clear although there was little directionality noticed during my viewing of the movie. The music score was pleasant, even containing a melancholy closing theme by Celine Dion, but there didn't seem to be all that much effort put into it either, using the basic music to guide the viewer aurally well in advance of any actions taking place on the small screen. There were some extensive bits in French and some Indian dialect (North American Indian, not the Eastern kind) with clear subtitles showing what was said but seeming out of place with modern slang liberally tossed in; perhaps to gain the favor of a younger, less demanding audience.
Extras: There were no extras included on the DVD.
Final Thoughts: Battle of the Brave was light on battles and the bravery shown was often truncated by the heavy handed plot devices used to put the two lovers in harms way. The historical matters were such that most school children from Quebec would laugh at how many liberties were taken and the trip to Europe was a waste given how brief and uneventful it turned out to be (almost like window dressing as a nod to bring in a number of famous characters who stood around impotent in light of what took place). In short, Battle of the Brave might satisfy the same audience that likes those thin romance novels you can find all over the place; the kind light on character development and plot ion favor of swooning women and righteous men, but like most eye candy, it was far less filling than it should have been; doing a disservice to the Quebecois in light of the advertised action.