mariages (2002)

director: catherine martin

marie-eve bertrand, guylaine tremblay, mirianne brule

Thereís something incongrous about a period film set in stark rural isolation. Without the trappings of carriages and architecture, or the spectacle of crowds in period costume, the strictures of corsets and upright morality seems needlessly cruel in the midst of timeless 

Itís a tension that Quebecois director Catherine Martin uses to great effect in her film Mariages. Yvonne (newcomer Marie-Eve Bertrand) is the luckless younger daughter of a widowed father. Her devout sister wants her to enter a convent, and Yvonne is trying to enjoy her last moments of freedom, disappearing to wander alone in the forest, when two events conspire to change her life.

Her motherís body is disinterred from the local cemetery, and found to have preserved itself as a salt statue. The "miracle" is put on exhibit in the local church, against Yvonneís fatherís wishes, and the return of her mother shatters Yvonneís resignation. When the girl falls in love with the prodigal son of a rich neighbour, she sets out on a collision course with her sister and the townís rigid Catholic morality.

Based on a true story from the directorís family history, it can only be imagined how much more joyless and dogmatic Mariages might have been, were it made in English Canada, in our tradition of government-funded, over-written "art films" made to satisfy committee demands for "quality" cinema. French Canadaís film industry is a bit more mature, however, and Martinís film is at ease with its poetic nature, revelling in Yvonneís raw love of nature, making a modest virtue out of its spare setting and simple story.

Martin, ultimately, tries to re-write her familyís story more hopefully, allowing Yvonne a shot at freedom and independence that the real world would have crushed. Marie-Eve Bertrandís performance is the key Ė seemingly opaque and bloodless at first, she develops a thrusting confidence and bravery as Yvonneís rebellion develops. A quiet standout that deserves an audience.