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film review

Sara Montpetit in a scene from Maria Chapdelaine.Laurence Grandbois-Bernard/Courtesy of MK2 Mile End

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  • Maria Chapdelaine
  • Directed by Sébastien Pilote
  • Written by Sébastien Pilote
  • Starring Sara Montpetit, Sébastien Ricard, Hélène Florent, Gilbert Sicotte, Gabriel Arcand, Danny Gilmore, Martin Dubreuil, Arno Lemay, Charlotte St-Martin, Thomas Haché, Henri Picard and Xavier Rivard-Désy.
  • Classification G, 158 minutes
  • Available in theatres Sept. 24

The 1914 novel Maria Chapdelaine, a backwoods romance written by the French immigrant Louis Hémon and based on his experiences as a labourer in the Lac Saint-Jean area, became an international bestseller and a high-school staple in both French and English. Its nationalist tale of hard-working habitants has been adapted multiple times and Sébastien Pilote’s new take reveals no particular reason to revisit the story but does produce a lush version filled with rich detail about the back-breaking work of clearing land. There are wonderfully quiet performances here from Sébastien Ricard and Hélène Florent as the long-suffering couple dedicated to carving themselves a good acreage out of the northern bush. As their daughter, the title character, newcomer Sara Montpetit does delicate work playing the 17-year-old who must decide between a city slicker and the boy next door after her fiancé dies in a snowstorm. Today’s YA generation is unlikely to appreciate the monosyllabic performances and stately pace, but Pilote delivers a beautiful film in the tradition of the Quebec canon.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s pick designation across all coverage. (Television reviews, typically based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)