seraphin: heart of stone [un homme et son péché](2003)


director: charles binamé

pierre lebeau, karine vanasse, roy dupuis

There’s a rough simplicity to the story of Seraphin: Heart of Stone, Charles Binamé’s period drama set in rural Quebec in the late 19th century. It’s a story of villains and suffering heroines and noble youth that sometimes seems straight from the silent era that preceded Charles-Henri Grignon’s much-loved 1933 novel.

Seraphin Poudrier is the mayor and miser who runs the backwoods town of St. Adele, a frog-faced schemer who has managed to cajole, swindle and blackmail the whole town into his private fiefdom. A debt accrued by the owner of the general store is Seraphin’s leverage in getting his hands on the merchant’s pretty daughter, Donalda (Karine Vanasse), who’s waiting for hunky woodsman Alexis (Roy Dupuis) to return from the winter lumber camps.

After a funereal wedding, Seraphin takes Donalda back to his freezing shack, and begins grinding the spirit out of the poor girl with his abuse and cheapness, her torment only increasing when Alexis returns with the spring to find her taken. Her father and the town suffer along with the young man, shamed by their silent complicity in Seraphin’s grasping, joyless plunder of everything they have.

Pierre Lebeau’s Seraphin is a richly grotesque creation, and the obvious skill and even joy the actor brings to playing this leering, covetous troll is unfortunately undercut by the rather graceless, red herring-filled plot and the fact that Seraphin’s sole motivation is miserly greed and little else.

It’s a mystery why a man who hoards his money and lives in bitter discomfort would demand the prettiest girl in the village for his wife, since he wants neither status nor love nor children. Seraphin’s meanness is so total that Lebeau has no leeway to make this brute villain either slyly sympathetic or even remotely human.

You long to see Seraphin get his comeuppance, but when it comes, it’s as cheap and unadorned as its object, and leaves the simpering townsfolk - Seraphin’s gutless enablers - virtually untouched. The monster who implicated everyone in his awful life should devastate everyone with his death; Binamé’s depthless take on Grignon’s story is ultimately too much like it’s namesake.