(Power of Passion)
Format: 35mm Colour
Runtime: 124 min
Claude Jutra adapted Kamouraska from Anne Hébert’s famous novel, which is set in the mid-1800s in Quebec City. As the film opens, Élisabeth (Bujold) is at the deathbed of her second husband Jérôme Rolland (Cuvelier) recounting her past, conveyed through a series of flashbacks.
Élisabeth marries her first husband Antoine Tassy (Léotard), the brutish seigneur of Kamouraska. At first, she loves him with passion and jealousy but Antoine's infidelities and drunkenness kill this love, and when he threatens their infant son, Élisabeth moves in to her aunt's house.
Antoine follows and continues his sexually demanding, physically dominating ways until Élisabeth falls ill. Antoine brings an old friend home, George Nelson (Jordan), an American doctor, and Élisabeth falls for him, pursuing him openly and obsessively. A young servant, Aurélie (Baillargeon), is used as an intermediary between Élisabeth and George, who become lovers, while Antoine, shamed, goes into retreat at Kamouraska.
Élisabeth becomes pregnant and attempts to persuade Antoine that the child is his to save the family from more shame. The lovers conclude that Antoine must be killed, and after a first attempt using Aurélie fails, George sets off to do it himself. After the brutal murder, he flees the country altogether. Élisabeth is acquitted of the crime to save the family from scandal, but she must live out her life in a loveless marriage to Rolland.
This slow-moving, stunningly beautiful film shot by ace cinematographer Michel Brault is Jutra's second feature film. It cost nearly $1 million, making it the most expensive Canadian film of its time. Received respectfully but somewhat coolly by the critics, it was only a modest commercial success in Canada and failed to gain the major release anticipated in both France and the United States — far from repeating the success of his debut, Mon oncle Antoine.
The film does have structural problems but it seems apparent now that they are the result of the film having been cut from its original length, which was considerably longer. But some critics at the time blamed Jutra's inability to handle the scope of the material. (A re�€'edited payTV version restored the film to Jutra's original conception.)
If Kamouraska avoids analyzing the sociopolitical implications of Élisabeth's background, it offers instead a keenly critical, even mocking, portrait of people exploiting each other. Jutra once again traces the theme of lost innocence — though here it passes through self�€'centredness to its end in self-destruction.
Kamouraska is a film of extraordinary range and depth by a director seemingly at the peak of his talents. Furthermore, Brault's images (especially the exteriors) are unforgettable, the performances (with the exception of Richard Jordan) consistently compelling, and Bujold performs what is surely the most powerful role of her career.