Black Robe (1991)

Poster

Director: Bruce Beresford

Stars: Lothaire Bluteau, Aden Young, August Schellenberg, Tantoo Cardinal, Sandrine Holt

In my mind, the past 40 years have yielded three masterful English language historical films about thwarted attempts by Jesuit missionaries to spread Christianity to new frontiers. Those three films are Roland Joffe’s 1986 film The Mission, set in South America in the mid-1700s; Bruce Beresford’s 1991 film Black Robe, set in Canada in the 1630s; and Martin Scorsese’s 2016 film Silence, set in Japan around the same time. These films have experienced differing receptions: Joffe’s film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, was nominated for seven Oscars, and its Morricone score still pervades popular culture; Beresford’s film won a smattering of Canadian and Australian film awards, as well as the Golden Reel Award for highest grossing Canadian film that year, but didn’t exactly set the world alight (later Golden Reel recipients include Johnny Mnemonic and Air Bud, just for context); and shockingly, Scorsese’s film caused nary a murmur on its release, despite its status as a long-gestating passion project from a director widely considered the premier filmmaker of the era. While my focus in this review is squarely on Black Robe (given Down Under Flix’s Antipodean brief and the film’s status as a Canadian-Australian co-production from an Australian director), I am also fascinated by how these films complement and diverge from each other, and will touch on this later.

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